Letters to the EditorNews

Questions on Discipline for the Clarke County School District

I’ve read Bertis Downs’ column (in the Mar. 9 Flagpole) regarding recent events at Cedar Shoals High School with great interest. In general, I agree with and support the suggestions contained in the letter.

I’m writing both as the father of two children who graduated from Cedar Shoals and as a former member of the Clarke County School Board to mention a few proposals based upon my experiences 15 years ago, which seemed then to be effective, at least for several years.

First, I read that school system employees, including teachers, are afraid to raise issues or question school administrators because they fear retaliation against them by those administrators. This serious issue was addressed by the school board many years ago when it was raised in the context of other unaddressed problems within the system.

In particular, the school board enacted a specific “anti-retaliation” policy assuring that any administrator who retaliated against an employee for raising valid issues of school concern would himself be subject to discipline at the school board level. The policy in question promoted the making of suggestions and proposals at the school level by employees, especially teachers, who frequently are in the best position to make positive suggestions. I don’t know whether the anti-retaliation policy is still in place, but if it is not it should be re-implemented, communicated to school employees and enforced seriously.

Second, the board somewhat less formally but with equal seriousness endorsed a program to enlist student leaders, including but not limited to athletes, with the help of school coaches, to help to promote responsible behavior, including the elimination of bullying, by other students. Empowering students who have demonstrated their willingness to work hard in extracurricular activities to achieve a level of success to police and monitor their fellow students also had a stabilizing effect within the schools, at least for a period of time. Eventually, student athletes were persuaded to buy into this program.

I would add a third suggestion: The school board should specifically empower parents of students to seek meetings with senior school administrators to address discipline and other problems when brought to their attention—and school principals should be instructed by the board to set aside a certain amount of time each week to meet with parents who request a meeting. Such a policy would formalize a procedure which may now be informally available in some schools.

Downs’ letter states what should be obvious: We in the community do not know exactly where the breakdowns in communications about the Cedar Shoals rape occurred among school police, county police, school administrators and district administrators. Calls for action now are therefore premature. One thing, though, seems likely: Administrators and perhaps others may have placed a premium on the reputation of the school and district—i.e., the well-known “C.Y.A.” instinct likely was at work. The board might also consider a policy that specifically condemns that prioritization of reputation over student safety.

We in the community do deserve an eventual accounting regarding the specific breakdowns in communication that occurred in this case that answers questions such as: Did the school police communicate adequately with the county police and vice versa? Did the county police examine the surveillance camera and report its findings to school and district administrators in a timely fashion? Did the office within the school responsible for issuing discipline request continuing updates from each police department? Why was school discipline—which should apply in far less serious situations—not implemented immediately? What changes are being made to make timely communications mandatory?