Dorch­ester com­mu­nity voices safety con­cerns

Dorchester Star - - FRONT PAGE - By VIC­TO­RIA WIN­GATE vwingate@ches­pub.com

CAMBRIDGE — More than 300 par­ents and mem­bers of the com­mu­nity at­tended the spe­cial meet­ing called by the Dorch­ester County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Tues­day, March 6, fol­low­ing an in­ci­dent at Cam­bridgeSouth Dorch­ester High School.

The fight that broke out in the CSD cafe­te­ria on Thurs­day, March 1, and the videos of the in­ci­dent cir­cu­lat­ing on Face­book sparked a pub­lic out­cry about the safety and se­cu­rity of the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment pro­vided by Dorch­ester County Pub­lic Schools.

Since the fight, Cambridge po­lice and the Dorch­ester County Sher­iff’s Of­fice have pro­vided ad­di­tional se­cu­rity at the school.

Be­fore open­ing the meet­ing to pub­lic com­ment, the Dorch­ester County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion an­nounced its plan for a Cit­i­zen Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on School En­vi­ron­ment.

Un­der the pro­posed frame­work for the Cit­i­zen Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on School En­vi­ron­ment, there would be four par­ents, two stu­dents, two law en­force­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, two ed­u­ca­tors, a health depart­ment of­fi­cial, a So­cial Ser­vices of­fi­cial, a Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices of­fi­cial, a NAACP rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from DCPS Pupil Ser­vices. There also are three cur­rently un­de­fined seats that would ac­com­mo­date other stake­holder groups not al­ready iden­ti­fied.

Board Vice President Phil Rice was ap­pointed chair­per­son of the coun­cil, and Board Mem­ber Laura Lay­ton was ap­pointed vice chair­per­son. The coun­cil will re­port to the school board with pol­icy and reg­u­la­tory rec­om­men­da­tions.

Rice also noted that there could be sub­com­mit­tees cre­ated at each school, by re­gion, or other cat­e­go­riza­tions to al­low more than the few the coun­cil mem­bers to be in­volved and heard.

Pub­lic com­ment be­gan with mes­sages from the newly-formed and quickly-grow­ing Dorch­ester

County Pub­lic Schools Con­cerned Par­ents group and the Dorch­ester Ed­u­ca­tors teach­ers union.

“So­cial me­dia and tech­nol­ogy has ex­po­nen­tially changed all of our roles and the lines that used to di­vide each of them,” said Melissa Den­nis, speak­ing on be­half of DCPS Con­cerned Par­ents. “We need ev­ery school to have the same con­sis­tent com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Board level down to the par­ent, with­out Face­book.”

She spoke to the dis­so­lu­tion of par­ent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tions, and said that all groups are re­spon­si­ble for the fail­ure of such en­gage­ment. She called for a resurgence of these groups with sig­nif­i­cant in­volve­ment from in­di­vid­u­als at the Board level.

“Our com­mu­nity needs these op­por­tu­ni­ties to know how to make our chil­dren not just college and ca­reer ready, but life ready,” Den­nis said.

Dorch­ester Ed­u­ca­tors President Katie Hol­brook spoke on be­half of the teach­ers union.

“The re­cent events of last week have brought con­cerns for school safety and stu­dent dis­ci­pline to the fore­front, but these con­cerns are not new – in fact they have been wo­ven in the fab­ric of our school sys­tem for some time — we are just now be­ing forced to face them,” Hol­brook said.

“We have com­mit­ted to a col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with this Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Mitchell, and di­rec­tors,” she con­tin­ued. “It is our duty to call for ac­count­abil­ity from this Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to en­sure that the poli­cies and pro­ce­dures for safety, school dis­ci­pline, and stu­dent con­duct are ap­pro­pri­ate and meet the needs of Dorch­ester County stu­dents, staff, and schools.”

Hol­brook also called for bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion for fac­ulty, staff, and par­ents, and ap­pro­pri­ate cri­sis and emer­gency train­ing for fac­ulty and staff.

More than 30 in­di­vid­u­als also spoke, some par­ents and some sim­ply mem­bers of the com­mu­nity who care about the ed­u­ca­tion of young peo­ple.

“We want to know that when our chil­dren pass through the doors of any school in this county, they can be con­fi­dent of what to ex­pect,” said par­ent Tammy Shock­ley. “That they can be con­fi­dent that ev­ery sin­gle teacher, staff mem­ber, ad­min­is­tra­tor, of­fi­cer, and board mem­ber, to in­clude the su­per­in­ten­dent, have their safety, men­tal health, and over­all best in­ter­est at heart.”

She also wants chil­dren to have con­fi­dence that school is a safe zone con­ducive to learn­ing, that their hard work will pro­duce pos­i­tive re­sults, and that bad be­hav­iors will be met with con­sis­tent con­se­quences.

Phil Reed, DCPS sub­sti­tute teacher, praised CSD prin­ci­pal Dave Bromwell and North Dorch­ester High School prin­ci­pal Lynn Sor­rells for their lead­er­ship in their re­spec­tive schools. He said he has never felt un­safe or threat­ened while per­form­ing his job in ei­ther school.

“In re­cent years, teach­ers have had to take on sev­eral new roles,” said Reed. “They’re now ex­pected to be psy­chol­o­gists, psy­chi­a­trists, coun­selors, men­tors, tu­tors, con­flict res­o­lu­tion ex­perts, stan­dard­ized test proc­tors, and who knows what else. Not to men­tion, teach­ers are still pro­vid­ing all the in­for­ma­tion to stu­dents to pre­pare them, even when some stu­dents are not will­ing to even at­tempt to learn any­thing.”

He said a teacher’s hands are tied when it comes to dis­ci­pline.

“So­ci­ety has taught our young peo­ple that they can make ex­cuses for their ac­tions, and noth­ing will hap­pen. It is every­body else’s fault,” Reed said.

He said that there must be con­se­quences to stu­dents’ ac­tions in or­der to teach re­spon­si­bil­ity, and fol­low the DCPS motto of ‘college and ca­reer readi­ness.’

Many ad­di­tional par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors, and com­mu­nity mem­bers spoke to their con­cerns, of­ten echo­ing the voices quoted above, and of­fered sug­ges­tions for how to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion at hand.

The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­bers, di­rec­tors, and Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Diana Mitchell lis­tened to their com­ments for the bet­ter part of two hours, and promised to see them through to a res­o­lu­tion.

Sen. Addie Eckardt R-37_ Mid-Shore; Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Tal­bot; Del. Sheree Sam­ple-Hughes, D-37A-Dorch­ester-Wi­comico; and Dorch­ester County Coun­cil President Ricky Travers also were in at­ten­dance at the meet­ing.

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