It’s time Springfield schools’ leaders level with the community about the ugly incident that happened at Kenwood Elementary School nearly a month ago.
That’s when Kenwood’s principal, in a police report, said Black students forced white classmates to kneel and say “Black Lives Matter.” Police released a video showing children marching others across a playground like lambs were going to slaughter.
Officials have been silent for a month, except for a press statement or two. Even worse, they hide behind federal law to justify their silence, claiming they can only release discipline information to parents.
That’s not true, especially since Springfield has released that information before.
Federal law prohibits schools from divulging a student’s personally identifiable information on education records. But officials can provide a broad outline of an incident and the disciplinary measures it decided to take. Here’s what the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) says:
“FERPA generally prohibits the improper disclosure of personally identifiable information derived from education records. Thus, information that an official obtained through personal knowledge or observation, or has heard orally from others, is not protected under FERPA.”
Here’s the right way to handle a bad situation. In 2012, two girls fought over a boy at a Springfield football game. Police broke up the fight and arrested the girls. The district’s former superintendent then told the community that the girls had been removed from school, would face further discipline that could include expulsion of up to 80 days, and wouldn’t be allowed to attend any school activities like dances and games.
See. How hard was that?
But over the last few years, Springfield has, charitably, a spotty record on coming clean with a community that supports it through its tax dollars.
Credit: Bill Lackey
Credit: Bill Lackey
In 2018, after a 6-year-old boy brought a gun to Kenwood, the school sent a letter to parents detailing the incident and noted that the student would be disciplined under district policy. But disciplined how? And what was the outcome?
That same year, an 11-year-old student received a two-week suspension after threatening to shoot a teacher, according to a Springfield police report. The school district didn’t release that information — reporters discovered it – and didn’t respond to a request or comment.
Due to the racial dynamics, some have leaped to the conclusion the Kenwood incident amounts to a hate crime. But Jamie Callan, the school board’s vice president, seemed to label the playground incident as bullying when he said at the February 23 school board meeting: “Violence is not an acceptable method to convey your message or opinion and amounts to bullying.” I tried to reach him for elaboration but couldn’t.
Maybe the incident was motivated by hate. Maybe it was bullying. Remember that young children often don’t understand the larger societal context of their actions. Heck, teens often don’t. In New Mexico, a group of high schoolers thought it would be funny to doctor a photo to show them wearing KKK hoods.
But no one knows, for sure, how to label this incident because the school district has decided to cower behind a federal statute meant to protect students, not hide information from the community.
Springfield resident Mike Valley attended the February 23 school board meeting that he said was cut short, so he didn’t get a chance to speak. He’s since sent a letter that says the community deserves to know what happened and the consequences of the actions.
“When there is violent action such as this, and total intimidation, bullying, humiliation, this needs to be addressed immediately,” he said.” Otherwise, you’ve lost the impact of any accountability.”
Whether it’s bullying, racist, or racist bullying, schools can and should tell the community what’s happening. Period. There’s no excuse not to. Simply release the number of children involved; the number of victims; the nature of the incident (bullying, etc.); whether students have been suspended, or remanded to juvenile court, and why that was the appropriate course of action.
Springfield did that in 2012, and it was the right thing to do. The district should follow that example and do the right thing now.
Ray Marcano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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