To the editor:
As one of the Whitefield parents who spoke at the “contentious” RSU 12 school board meeting on Dec. 14, I would like to clarify some of our concerns and requests that were brought to the meeting. Though I do not claim to be the voice of all of the parents in the community, I have spoken to enough of them to know that the thoughts presented here are not unique, and our family is not alone in our concern.
The conversation we’re having about the safety of our kids began organically, as part of a community forum held to discuss ways in which we can improve our school and enrich the lives of our children. In that forum, we addressed the past, present, and future of our school, and created lists of memories, concerns, and suggestions, ranging from establishing a volunteer coordinator to implementing a drama club.
At the end of that forum, we voted as to which items should be prioritized. Concerns over safety and the way the school and administration respond to bullying incidents was the overwhelming winner.
Since then, in part due to that Dec. 14 board meeting, it has become clear that the RSU 12 administration does not seem interested in addressing the issue head-on.
Parent after parent stood and told heart-wrenching stories of injury, sexual assault, anxiety, and suicide concerns, and the lack of a clear outlet through which to address them. These stories came with less than desirable outcomes— home-schooling, school transfers (of the victims), and a cycle of continually being bounced from one entity in the district to another, only to end up back where we started without resolution. However, that board meeting was not an attack on our teachers. Parents understand that the lack of resources and volunteers makes it difficult for teachers, and that they are often caught between us and the administration.
Moreover, there was no violence at that board meeting, nor the threat of it.
Yet at the January meeting, the board felt the need to have a sheriff present. Ironic that they are so quick to ensure their own safety, yet concerns we have over the safety of our children go unheeded. We are not really asking for much.
Our goal is to have a school where our kids can focus on their education and develop their skills. That is difficult when they feel unsafe. My own son has missed many school days because of anxiety related to being bullied by both classmates and much older kids. We want a publicly available and easy to find hierarchy of contact, and a clear process to follow in the event of an incident.
We want acknowledgment from the school and the district that these issues have happened, that our stories are not “one-offs” as suggested, and an upheld promise to do better.
We want a timely response, not the letter I have dated Jan. 9 inviting me to share my story with the board four years after the reported incident happened. Since other parents received similar letters, I can only interpret that as an attorney-advised, divide-and-conquer, damage-control process.
We want our teachers to have the help and resources they need. Most of the teachers at the school are great, and they love their kids, but they can’t be everywhere at once.
We want consistency of process relating to school volunteers. Instead, we get the incongruent message that we can’t have volunteers assist with classrooms, buses, and recess without being fingerprinted, while PTA members, athletics coaches, and other after-school program volunteers aren’t held to that requirement.
We want to hear both sides of the stories that involve our children, because we know that our kids are not always angels, and that the truth is often in the middle. Instead, families are kept apart during conflict, with the school citing confidentiality. If my kid comes home and tells me student John Doe did something I need to report, I am afraid that confidentiality is a moot point before I ever pick up the phone.
We want the committee mentioned in your Jan. 16 article (“RSU 12 board declines to hear comments on Whitefield school”) to be transparent.
We want to be involved and we want to be heard.
We are aware that the teachers, board, and superintendent daily perform a juggling act with many balls in the air – state and federal requirements, staffing, curriculum, budgets, and logistics, in addition to the students themselves.
But as parents, we need them to remember that some of those balls are glass, and they belong to us. If they are broken, they will never be the same.
Thank you, and I hope that you continue to cover the RSU 12 situation as it unfolds.