Here are two letters that appeared in response to my recent opinion piece in the Rochester Eccentric that called for a community dialogue on student behavior as it relates to drugs, alcohol, fighting, and theft.
Rochester Eccentric: Letters (10/16/08)
To put these letters in context and perspective, I’d encourage you to read my article again first (found by clicking here), and then read the letters.
I've spotlighted these letters because they demonstrate the bitter, reflexively defensive tone that too often obstructs civil dialogue on the thornier issues facing our schools.
I've inserted comments in the middle of their letters to illustrate how they’ve twisted things.
Keep in mind that the primary focus of my article was to call attention to the difficult, yet important issue of student safety and behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and theft. The only thing I encouraged was a wider community dialogue. Yet for some unknown reason these parents seem to be fixated on discouraging video surveillance.
So, as you read these letters, ask yourself what sort of message are these parents trying to send to me by responding so angrily to my opinion piece? Are they saying that school safety and student behavior is fine, and doesn’t require any attention? Or are they saying, “Don’t mention this in public?”
P.S. For the record, Ms. Thomasson was one of the speakers at the September 22 board meeting that is discussed in my opinion piece and the letters below.
---------------------------------------------------------The real disconnect
In Mr. Reno's quest to install video surveillance in the Rochester Community Schools, [What quest is that? I think VS would be worthwhile, but I never once mentioned it my article.] he has misrepresented the facts and disrespected the school community. Data does not support his claim that video surveillance is needed in our schools. [What data? What claim?]
While Mr. Reno claims that there is a disconnect between the school community and reality, the disconnect is between Mr. Reno and the school community. He shows his disconnect when he refers to the building security strategy as merely pep assemblies promoting safety. [Exactly what strategy does Ms. Johnson believe is in place?]
Since Mr. Reno is totally lost when it comes to understanding our school community and how it works, I suggest he stick to his responsibilities as board member. [I believe safety is indeed a board responsibility.]
Reno is wrong
I am writing in response to Mr. Reno's opinion piece in (the Oct. 5) Eccentric titled "Focus on facts in school safety debate."
In yet another effort to advocate for video surveillance, [Read my article… I advocated for a “reality check”, not video surveillance.] it is unfortunate that Mr. Reno failed to mention any of the other important items that are included on the list of more than $5 million of high-priority, unfunded items for the coming school year, including curriculum and technology updates and required maintenance of Rochester Community Schools' facilities. [Entirely unrelated to my opinion piece. It’s a completely different discussion, which I’ll explore soon.]
In his opinion piece, Mr. Reno belittled school culture-changing initiatives such as Challenge Day [False: I participated in one of these events, and clearly see benefit in them.] and presentations by nationally known diversity speaker Michael Fowlin [The board has never been invited to a school to hear him. Would love to go.] , by calling them "pep assemblies promoting safety." Well, he is wrong. [Never belittled them… in fact I mentioned they were a key component. What I clearly said was that they should not be the ONLY component.]
These programs are part of a district-wide strategy focused on prevention. [Exactly what strategy is that?] We do have pep assemblies at Rochester High School and they are awesome, but they are all about and only about school spirit!
But, speaking of school spirit, Mr. Reno dismissed public comments made at the Sept. 22, 2008, Board of Education meeting by Rochester High School parents and students, as merely "an admirable showing of school spirit." Either he wasn't listening or he didn't understand the comments that were made.
In response to remarks made by a police liaison officer at the Sept. 8 board meeting, that made every day seem like "Fright Night" at Rochester High, more than 30 students and about a dozen parents came out to tell the Board of Education and the public that Rochester High School is a safe place to go to school. [Nobody said it is not safe.]
No one said that there aren't problems. [Not true… several students said there were no problems. And more significantly, board members said that as high school parents they do not see these “situations”.] But as a diverse community of nearly 1,800 students, it is very similar to other high schools in our area, particularly when it comes to school safety issues. [The Deputies and I both said the very same thing.]
Mr. Reno is now asking for an exploration of safety and security facts, saying that our Rochester public schools are out of touch with reality. That is not the case. In fact, we have had frank discussions about safety and security concerns. [Who exactly is “we”? These discussions have not happened at the school board level, which was my entire point.] A parent and community forum sponsored by the Rochester PTA Council called Rochester Unplugged addressed many of these issues. It included a panel discussion with members of law enforcement, our judicial community and the media. [Why is it OK for the PTA Council to have a discussion, but not a Rochester board member?] The District Student and Staff Safety and Security Committee, of which I was a member, did discuss and take into consideration school safety facts before making safety and security recommendations to the Board of Education in 2007. [That is incredibly misleading. The superintendent has clearly said that the purpose of that committee was to consider how to protect students against aggressive attacks on the building, and specifically did not address student behavior issues like drugs, alcohol, or theft in any way whatsoever.] But those recommendations were made by the committee without regard to budget constraints.
Given current budget constraints on our general fund and a limited fund balance, the Board of Education will need to make some difficult choices in the coming months. Mr. Reno believes the board could choose to do them all, meaning fund all of the $5 million of high-priority unfunded items in the next school year, including more than $1 million in video surveillance equipment. [That is completely wrong in several ways. I don’t agree that the list is complete, nor do I believe the district needs to do the complete video recommendation. Ms. Thomasson is simply making this up.]
I personally do not believe it would be fiscally responsible to fund them all by spending down our fund balance in such uncertain times. The Board of Education must prioritize these items and I believe the items that directly impact student learning should be at the top of the list.
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