So last night I went to a “safety task force” meeting at my daughter’s elementary school — a group that had been formed in the wake of the recent incident of threatened violence at the hands of a fifth grader. About 30 parents showed up, compared to 120 or so who arrived at the first meeting to discuss the school’s handling of the situation.
After an entirely too long and all together unproductive PowerPoint preso given by the school’s principal discussing the dangers of bullying (and all-too-briefly suggesting what to do about it), we broke off into four groups, each tasked with discussing the same three bullet-point questions: How should the student handbook be updated to reflect student behavior? How should school security be improved? And how should parents and teachers try to teach kids to behave better?
From where I was sitting, it was the wrong three questions — I think a more productive use of our time would have been to examine the root cause of so much mistrust from the parents: The school’s lack of communication when significant incidents occur.
In any case, we learned before we broke off into groups that the school has revised how it handles cases where students threaten violence on each other: Each and every case is referred to the school’s “resource officer” — the police officer assigned to the school; referred to the principal; and communicated to the parents of the alleged bully and victim. That seems like a reasonable response, and it’s good that that’s the case, but it’s a shame that it took such an ugly episode for them to have a plan in place that should have been there from the start.
Back to the issues at hand, many of us suggested that it would be helpful if the student handbook did a better job of spelling out what behaviors are unacceptable and what the consequences are. Many other schools group behaviors such as bullying, fighting or vandalism, weapons carrying and drug use into separate categories and assign them blanket sets of consequences, such as days of suspension or police/fire department involvement.
This seems to me to be a pretty regressive and reactive way to deal with the problem, but it’s better than what we have now, which is a policy that basically says, “if kids misbehave, it’s up to the school to decide how to deal with them.” That, frankly, gives the Mashpee school administration way too much leeway in how they will handle those cases, and it’s stuff like that which led to this incident in the first place.
The issue of security is a total red herring. We’re there because a kid threatened to kill his classmates, and we ended up spending a fair amount of time talking about how to keep child molesters out of the school. While I agree that’s important, the solution is also pretty common sense: Leave all common doors to the building locked from the outside, and post a gatekeeper — either a receptionist or a security guard — at the front door to verify the identity of anyone entering the building.
That’ll do nothing to make the kids in the classrooms feel safer if their classmates are point their fingers at them threatening to kill them one by one, but at the very least it’ll make the building a bit more secure, without requiring massive capital improvements. Some of the parents were coming up with totally unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky ideas involving closed circuit surveillance and ID checks and barcode scanning of drivers’ licenses. This is an elementary school in an exurb of Boston, for goodness’ sake, not a maximum security prison or a bank vault.
As far as how to help the kids become better people, the PBIS program the school is working with seems like a step in the right direction. I suggested that the PBIS goals be written into the core curriculum, so teachers end up trying to help kids develop empathy skills as they’re learning English, social studies, art, whatever is appropriate.
I also recommended that kids be rewarded for being good to each other — which elicited a snide response from another parent sitting at my table that “kids shouldn’t get chocolates from the teach-ah fo-ah doin’ their math homework right.” Which was, obviously, entirely beside the point.
Finally, we suggested that the parents be pulled into the PBIS training process itself; that the school have nights where parents can come in to learn more about the program and how to implement positive behavior reinforcement in their home life, so there’s a continuity of experience for their kids that extends to both home and school.
Anyway, that’s it in a nutshell. Clearly my problem isn’t just with the administration at the school, but with some of the other parents, mouth breathing morons that they are.
But what else is new?