Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pop Tart Conversation

I've been emailing, snail mailing, and delivering notes and letters to state representatives for over three years, and am used to being ignored. One elected official WILL respond, a Representative with whom I have almost NOTHING in common: Sally Kern. She steps up and addresses concerns and engages. Here's our latest. I sent a letter to the entire Education Committee of the OK House, and hers was the only response I've gotten so far. I'm including my first note, hers, and my reply. Three different fonts from our original formats. Sorry. 

Email sent to the House Education Committee: 

Two education common sense; one a license to bullies. Please allow me to share my thinking about both by sharing my blog posts.

HB2351 is an extreme reaction to one isolated case of over-reaction on the part of a school staff...weeks after Newtown, a little one played guns with his poptart. As an educator of 39 years, at every level of public education, I say without reservations...the school had many opportunities to choose a different, more appropriate, strategy, and it appears no one did that. It is an example of how ineffective 'zero tolerance' is as a tool.

Representative Kern admits Oklahoma has not had a similar incident, but she still calls her bill 'common sense.' As my friends and I discussed the ramification of this bill, we reached a frightening conclusion...this bill will sanction bullying. No child can be held responsible for brandishing pastries or pencils or fingers, while aiming at another person -- fellow student or teacher -- while pretending to pull the trigger, making gun noises. 

I write about a friend who had that happen to her in the Oklahoma. I see no safeguards in HB2351 that will give schools strategies to keep this kind of intimidation from happening. Please enlighten me if I am wrong.

Why are we wasting precious legislative time on a bill like this when the state has such pressing matters to attend to? I can never support a bill that gives bullies free reign in the classroom to destroy the climate of the school. 

HB2437, authored by Representative McDaniel, is, in my mind, the common sense bill. Ending the high stakes attached to third grade reading tests and End of Instruction exams will allow teachers to teach, and students to learn. It will put assessment back in its place, as a tool for instructional planning. The tests will remain, but will not dominate the work of students and teachers. Common sense, team decisions, and partnerships with families will be the tools for making decisions about students. I strongly support this bill.

As always, I offer my time and effort to the committee if I can be of service. You have thousands of educators whose goals are similar to yours: creating the best education for every child in our state. We can work together.

Response from Sally Kern, author of HB2351:

Thank you for your email regarding the two bills you mentioned.

Since the media frenzy  of HB 2351, I have collected over ten examples of lack of common sense regarding children playing at school.  Those schools that have zero tolerance policies do not have the discretion to use the common sense most of our teachers have.  This bill will allow them the freedom to let children be children.  It in no way promotes bullying because we already have bullying statutes on the books and this bill does not negate them.  If a child or a group of children are displaying taunting behavior or any kind toward other children, the teacher should handle that immediately.  But children just playing innocent games or using their imagination, should not be punished.  Of course, if there is actual harm done to another child that should, and probably, already is being dealt with.  We will probably have to agree to disagree on this bill. 

Rep. McDaniel’s bill sound like a good one.  Of course I haven’t had the opportunity to read it yet so can’t say how I will vote on it.  I am a huge proponent of ending EOI’s.

God bless,

Sally Kern

My response:

First, thank you for your response. I seldom hear back from elected officials, and that dismays me.

I feel like we might have an area of agreement: zero tolerance policies do not protect kids from teachable moments. "Lack of common sense" goes both ways. Attempting to legislate your version of common sense seems to have created TOTAL tolerance, as dangerous for the welfare of kids as zero.

You say bullying will not occur with this total tolerance bill..please explain. I see nothing in your bill that speaks to intent of students, and the effects their behavior will have on the psychological welfare of others, students and teachers. I understand we have mandates in place state-wide about bullying behavior, but I am unsure how ONE bill affects ANOTHER. When faced with a situation where a student, as happened to my friend, sits in class, points at the teacher as if with a gun, and makes explosive sounds, which law takes precedent? Which law does the administration invoke? Remember, these things happen in a split second, and decisions must be made.

I truly do not understand the law enough to see how all our students will be protected in your bill.

But I have another, deeper concern. Why THIS bill? Why pop tarts? Why 2nd Amendment tee-shirts? We have true emergency situations in education in our state: 31% poverty in children under the age of 5 -- preschoolers in poverty. 50% of our school children qualify for free and reduced lunches. The deepest cuts in public education in the nation over the past few years. Current laws that are strangling schools, including the A-F law, third grade retention and EOI requirement with continued underfunding of needed remediations. A state Superintendent of Schools who earmarks a 300% increase in charter school incentives while continuing to starve public schools. A Superintendent who continues to send mandates and rule changes to schools nearly weekly...

In the light of all these concerns, why pop tarts? You say you've heard of 10 instances of children being affected. I did the math with 2012 figures:

In 2012, the OSDE reported 666,150 students enrolled in public schools in our state. Each day for those children is a new opportunity to behave appropriately or not. So, there are 118,574,700 student-days in a school year. TEN instances where a child was severely punished for 'brandishing' a toy or a finger or a pencil pales in comparison to the days our children live in poverty that is ignored by our policy makers.

I DO want common sense...schools able to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, without the restrictions of zero tolerance and the unknown of total tolerance.

Please help me understand how bullying is precluded from your bill. 

I would feel marginly better about Kern's bill IF I believed schools still had the power to deal with true bullying situations. I'd still feel like it's frivolous and a waste of legislators' time...but I'd feel better knowing children and teachers would be safe from harassment. 

No comments:

Post a Comment