- Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 18:11
- Published on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 18:11
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Concerned citizens pack School Board meeting Monday
Before a standing-room-only audience of approximately 80 parents, teachers, administrators and students, nine King George parents and grandparents spoke out about and demanded answers to very serious issues surrounding the safety of their children while in school and the way discipline for serious violations is meted out by the King George
County School Board.
Since January there have been four published articles about school violence and one published series about deficiencies in the special education department. Numerous other parents have come forward in community message boards and by e-mail and telephone with their stories about bullying, perpetrated both by classmates and school administrators.
Three young men and their families have put a face to these issues and appeared last night before the school board.
Holly Hayden, mother of a fifth grade student, was the second speaker to take the podium. Hayden began her remarks stating “My child has been a victim of an assault with a weapon.”
Visibly shaken, Hayden broke down, and while she composed herself, her husband, Matt, came forward and stood on her left side and their 10-year-old son came forward and stood on her right side. Matt then proceeded to read the school policy on discipline for weapons violation. The Haydens asked the School Board why the Sheriff’s Office was not called when their son had a knife held to his throat. And the Haydens asked the School Board why it does not follow its own written school policy.
Linda Davis, Special Olympic Coordinator, coach and advocate for special needs children and their families, took the podium. Standing with Davis were her son Cody, home on leave from the Navy after a tour in Afghanistan; Bobby, whose recent struggle with the King George special education department has been well documented in this newspaper; the Hayden’s 10-year old son, Josh, who had a knife held to his throat at school; and, Nathan, the sophomore at the high school who was jumped and suffered three jaw fractures after alerting school personnel to a threat. The three young men standing with Davis were well dressed and listened attentively and respectfully as Davis spoke to the board.
“Three boys. Three chances to speak and do the right thing. Three kids who came to you for help, who came to ask you to speak up for them, to protect them, to educate them,” Davis said.
“Three sets of parents who came to you for guidance and support. Three stories that could have had a happy ending if only you had stepped up to do your job. And you couldn’t be reached for comment.”
Davis continued, “You stayed silent for too long.”
Davis added: “Nothing you say matters because when these children needed you, when we needed you, you couldn’t be reached for comment.”
In closing, Davis turned and told the three young men “Bobby, Nathan and Josh, I am so very sorry for what happened to you, but please know that you are not alone anymore. All of us are here with you and we aren’t going away. You three boys with your courage have made a difference. Thank you.”
Although Bobby did not speak for himself while standing at the podium, he shared his feelings about his first public appearance with The Journal and asked, “Why was that lady laughing at me?” According to Bobby and several other speakers and audience members, board member Lynn Pardee kept a smile on her face and laughed and shared written notes with School Superintendent Candace Brown and Board Chairwoman Renee Parker while listening to public comment, in stark contrast to the tears being shed by the speakers and throughout the audience.
Several other parents spoke to incidents of repeated bullying being experienced by their children and their attempts to notify school officials. According to one grandparent, Patty Golightly, “My grandson has been bullied since first grade. He is in middle school now. We have called … and called … and called. Nothing changes. When my grandson finally had enough and fought back, the bully got five days suspension and my grandson got five days suspension.”
School board members did not respond immediately to the parents during citizen comment, but took advantage at the end of the meeting during board comment, after the majority of parents had left to go home, fix dinner, and give baths to their children, to speak out.
Board chairwoman Renee Parker said “I have not had one phone call about these incidents.” Parker further said “You show up. You are upset. That’s completely typical. I don’t know what else to offer.”
Rick Randall held up his cell phone and said: “You say you call, but the phone is always busy. The last parent call I got on this phone was Christmas time.”
Dennis Paulsen spoke and said “There are fights at school. There are problems at school. We are not at the same level as Spotsy or Stafford.” Paulsen later added “I never tell a constituent ‘no comment.’ I don’t use the local paper to talk to my constituents.”
Michael Rose spoke and said “If you’re not satisfied with the teachers and staff, come talk to me, give me a call. I’m willing to sit down and work with you.”
Lynn Pardee spoke and said “Bullying is not new. It comes from home.” Pardee added “You have to talk to your children. The faculty is doing the best they can, but things happen. That’s life.” Pardee took it a step further and noted “I feel like I was bullied tonight.”
Several board members reminded the public that three seats are up for re-election this year. Pardee encouraged citizens “Run for office. If you’re unhappy with what we’re doing, it’s up to you.”
Based on last night’s meeting, one thing is very clear. The three young men who stood up with their advocate in the formal meeting room in the Revercomb Building learned an important lesson. They learned that it’s OK to stand up for yourself and they learned how to do that in a respectful manner.
However, questions that clearly remain unanswered include: What have the other students in King George schools learned? What have the students who broke the rules and who remain in their classroom with their friends and teachers, what have they learned?