Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fit of Anger

OK-- So I lost my temper. I even swore in front of my own daughter. I was mad. I probably could have dealt with the inconvenience caused by the school, but when I called the district to complain, I spoke with a woman who was quite rude. I am sure that she was sick of parent phone calls by then but THAT IS WHAT SHE GETS PAID TO DO!! Well, I wrote an email- not my best work. We'll see what good it does.
Dear Superintendent Henshaw and others,
I am writing to tell you of my disappointment and anger at the way the busing failure was handled today. It took me an hour to get my daughter home from American Fork Junior High School. (It is only a 6 minute drive at 25 mph.) Snow was NOT the trouble. The school was the trouble.
  • No one from the school contacted us. My daughter was not allowed to use the school phone because there were too many students trying to call home. When I spoke with the personnel at the district office, they assured me that parents were notified by the automated calling system. We have updated home, business and cell phone numbers on record with the school and did not receive a call of any of these numbers. We have current emails on file with the school. We have caller ID and answering machines on all phones. I am frustrated that the district would lie to me. We did not receive any communication from the school. My daughter called me on her cell phone. We bought her a cell phone for real emergencies and fake "emergencies" like this one, even though the district, school and the PTA have fought us all year, trying to ban them from the school.
  • The school and the district assured us that they had no choice in the matter. The Utah Highway Patrol supposedly forbid the schools to release any children in the district. However, my 4th grade son walked home in the snow all by himself. I also passed two school zones with children walking home and heard numerous other parents at the jr high complaining that their younger children walked home. Some teachers at the junior high school let students simply leave class, though most did not. (I am also not sure how the Highway Patrol has any authority over the public schools' policies and procedures.)
  • American Fork Jr. High was distressingly unprepared to handle this mini-crisis. I shudder to think what could have happed if this had been a true emergency. Their should have been a plan in place for the parents of 2,000+ students to converge and pick up their children at the same time. Traffic was at a standstill from the school, all the way down 100 East and both directions of 300 North leading to 100 East. I am sure that other school routes were congested as well. Inside the school, there were parents, students, and staff everywhere. The intercom was constantly calling off names of students to come down and get picked up. No one was checking IDs or signatures so it wouldn't have mattered who picked up students. The emergency contact info on our student information sheets was worthless. Your current procedures give the surface appearance on paper of being in control but they offer no real protection to students.
  • The students were not properly informed of what was happening. I misunderstood and thought that just my daughter's bus route was canceled. (She does have a incompetent bus driver. During the last snowstorm, the bus driver couldn't make it up any of the hills and on one particularly stressful area of snow and ice began screaming "We're all going to die!" My daughter is fairly reliable and had no reason to make that up.) If I had known that all students (including walking students) were going to be held at the school, I would have taken a different route to the school, left my baby at home or arranged for my emergency contact to pick her up.
A few suggestions to get you started:
  • Apologize to all of the students and parents in the school district for your mishandling of this situation. Quit trying to justify your actions by saying that you did the best you could. Simply admit your mistakes.
  • Require each school to develop and practice a USEABLE plan for situations like this in the future. Make sure that parents are aware of the DETAILS of the procedures. A brief statement of policies in the handbook is not enough. A workable plan is necessary.
  • Use technology like cell phones, electronic bulletin boards, websites, and automated calling systems to facilitate communication.
I am a teacher and I want to give public education the benefit of the doubt whenever possible but my confidence in the public school system has been faltering and this event has made it clear to me that Alpine School District does not deserve my support anymore. I have been biting my tongue for the past 7 years but will no longer do so. You can expect me to contact you again in the future with additional concerns.

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