Today is the student led National School Walk Out to bring awareness to school violence. Maybe it’s all of the work we’ve been doing in change.school about student agency or maybe it’s because we as a school district cannot endorse or participate in a planned walk out during the school day, since doing so would be in violation of public education, or maybe I worry about the disruption to our school day for every student protest that follows this one–but I did not send a letter to our families informing them of what we, as a district, are doing today. Why? Because as a school district, it isn’t our event and what we planned was to create the conditions under which students could express their voice safely.
I should have sent a letter home. In addition to the National Student Walk Out, we had a student make a mistake on Friday for which we did everything right–gave our strongest school consequence and worked with law enforcement, continue to work with law enforcement–but for which we can never inform an entire school community about the mistake of someone’s child. Because we are a small town, rumors have gone wild. Families want communication from the school district, from me—for a student led walkout that isn’t our event and on a student discipline issue for which we’re not permitted to share details.
One of the most challenging problems is always balancing the desire people have to know everything with the confidentiality required when dealing with a personnel issue or a student issue. Social media exacerbates that challenge significantly because when we can’t or don’t say anything, others are happy to fill that void.
Here’s an example. Today is a snow day because the weather in Colden and Collins Center was horrible this morning and the advice from our highway supervisors and transportation supervisor was to close due to unsafe driving conditions. I knew when I had to close for snow that some people would make an assumption that it was because of rumors they heard about a student threat. This is not true. Our schools are safe, we investigate every complaint, and we follow through with law enforcement and student discipline when necessary and appropriate.
My communication with families on the student walkout should have been better. I’m sorry. I should have sent a letter to families explaining my thinking and our leadership team’s approach for today, just as I sent an email to our employees. Even if I just explained that we weren’t planning the event, I should have told you we were planning a response.
Instead, I insisted that we spend our time and energy on improving school safety—what should be the result of the student led walk out nationally. We are certainly aware of the walk out, we’ve talked to student leaders, we’ve listened, we’ve planned to have a quiet, respectful response to any of our students who plan to participate. As adults in the school system we always seem to rush to control and plan every aspect of the day–I saw this as a student led event. And if our Springville students chose not to lead anything? Then it is school as it always is for us. For as many of our families who wanted SOMETHING DONE, there were those who said, “I don’t want this to touch my child” and “I don’t want her worrying about this”.
We ARE evaluating all of our practices, consulting with law enforcement experts and moving forward with changes that will take us from a “soft target” to a “hard target”. That’s an adult conversation. That’s been taking place for about a year at Springville, through our safety audit with improved practices, our increased emergency drills to practice our responses, at our leadership tables and at our BOE meeting on 3/20/18. That conversation is OUR RESPONSIBILITY, not a student walk out to get everyone’s attention with an “enough is enough” message.
We must continue to pay attention to every child, to connect with families, to offer mental health services through our Family Support Center. Those measures are vitally important but I believe we also have to consider our security. We can’t just walk into a museum, an art gallery, a government office, or a small town courtroom without some measure of security ‘clearance’ and yet for years, we didn’t even lock all of our doors.
We do now. And we ask for ID. And we’re learning about a technology that will help us to better secure our buildings. And there are a number of other measures, large and small–including keeping doors locked to every classroom too–that will help us to better keep our children safe.
As I listen to law enforcement and school security advisors, I believe we have to follow their advice to the extent possible. I also believe we need to listen to our school district employees and their ideas–because school safety and security is the responsibility of every adult in our school community.
Our “see something, say something” mantra is important. We’re a small school and we need to pay attention to each other. No child should go unnoticed or unloved within our doors. We have to support those in need. Our school employees do whatever they can to help and support our children and that includes counseling, strong school consequences when someone makes a mistake that may harm others, and the involvement of law enforcement. Our Family Support Center, designed to help our families in crisis, is an incredible resource.
On March 20, 2018, Sergeant Tom Kelly, NYS Police Emergency Management, and Tony Olivo, retired US Marshal who conducted our security audit, will talk to us at our BOE meeting about the additional measures we can take. We have some money available to us through our current capital project and another funding stream that I believe must be used first and foremost to improve school security–before we use it to put an electronic device in every kid’s hands.
Let’s have that adult conversation about what we’re doing about school safety and security because enough IS enough.
Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent