Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: MAUSD board has to listen

I am writing this piece from my heart. From the heart of a person who for two decades worked as an administrator in the Addison Northeast district. From the heart of a person who has also been a teacher, parent, grandparent, volunteer in the schools, advocate for families and a member of the Tari Shattuck Education Foundation. My heart breaks for everyone in our district: students, staff, parents, administrators and board. How did we get here?

How did we get to a place where a child can get so out of control that things are destroyed, staff injured and other children are terrorized? How is it that there is not a person in each school who is trained in proper restraint? How is it that the child who is so out of control is not held (by a properly trained person) and has to experience the terror of his/her emotions that are completely beyond his/her control?

There have been many issues brought to the public’s awareness in the last weeks regarding challenges at Bristol Elementary School (BES) in particular regarding difficult student behavior. These incidents have had wide-ranging impacts that include but are not limited to:

  • teachers grappling with how to manage these disturbances while also trying to teach.
  • a perceived lack of support from board and administration with one-on-one positions replaced by coaches.
  • teachers grappling with how to support the other children in the classroom (s) who witness these disturbances.
  • the disruption of learning that happens when students and teachers have to leave the classroom or shelter in place.
  • the mental health of all staff and all students.

I have attended one board meeting in person and have watched recordings of two others on NEAT–TV.

At the board meeting that I attended in person, a parent and grandparent asked that the school notify families when a “clear the halls” had been issued during their child’s school day so that families could support their child when they arrived home.

I appreciated the posting on FPF about the clear the halls issue. I am sure that people worked hard to articulate the protocols and procedures. I must admit it was a bit dense and a lot to sort through. Unfortunately necessary given all the possible scenarios. I particularly appreciated that in the first paragraph it was clear how families would be notified. That is exactly what was being asked for at the board meeting. I am just sorry it took so long to address that.

Addressing challenges in a timely manner has been a chronic problem in the district for a while now. The board and administration committed to the people at one of the October board meetings that extra staff would be hired. This was and is a critical and immediate need. It was immediate not just this school year, but for the past few school years. In a posting on FPF on Nov. 10, the board shared among other things that that three new fulltime staff positions have been created to support students; resources are being reassigned to support students; safe spaces are being identified for students where students can become regulated; there has been partnering with other mental health organizations; and there has been a review of practices in updating the board on behavior work and challenges happening in the schools.

These are all positive steps. However, it is my understanding that teachers have not been involved in the creation of these steps being taken. My understanding from speaking to staff in the schools that they are in the dark about these steps. Why is this? It is very hard as a community member to understand why this has taken so long and why the people most directly affected by any changes are not involved in the planning. It is now almost six weeks since the incident at BES on Oct. 7 that brought all this to light. I cannot even imagine how disheartened teachers must feel.

Other questions I have:

  • How is the COVID money being used to help the extensive need for assistance around social/emotional challenges?
  • Why is it that there is no one in each school trained in appropriate restraint and when a child was so dysregulated that a classroom was destroyed, coaches were standing watching?
  • How is this money being used to support teachers in their daily support of children? I talk to a lot of people in the community, and many are wondering this.

What is the issue and timeline for completion of the front of the building at BES? As I stated in an email to the board, I directly experience the incredible inconvenience and disruption for the front office staff when I pick up the child I mentor. BES has been such a gem in our community for decades. The front of the building has looked atrocious for months, not the face of a gem.

The face of the building is a bit of a metaphor for what some community members perceive as neglect of those very real substantive issues discussed here. I appreciate that the board and administration is making the effort to communicate to the wider community. There is a lot of mistrust unfortunately because of neglect of this for a long time. It will take a lot of transparency to heal the very deep broken hearts in our community.

Although I think steps have been taken, and appreciate the work of the board and administration. Yet, there’s a long way to go and I, as a supportive community member, implore the board and administration to do better in communicating, involving staff in these critical plans and in being transparent with the community. Please don’t go silent, that only breeds mistrust.

Phoebe Barash

Bristol

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