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Attendance at School Board Meetings Could Increase Voter Turnout

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Only 42% of eligible voters in the US showed up to vote for the 2016 presidential election. While it may seem shockingly low, this year’s turnout was not an exception when you look at historical averages. In fact, a large population of disengaged citizens is actually pretty commonplace in the US, and can be traced directly to the lack of effective civics education within our school systems. Many schools offer government and civics courses, but rarely offer valuable lessons around how to run for office, testify, vote, or protest (e.g. how to utilize the democratic process as it was originally intended). So it makes sense that a student who has not been taught the value of civic participation will likely evolve into an apathetic voter as an adult.

“…a student who has not been taught the value of civic participation will likely evolve into an apathetic voter as an adult.”

To address this, I am in the process of building a Youth Advocacy Council in Delaware, which will equip students with the skills to advocate on their own behalf at school board meetings, and ideally down at legislative hall in Dover. The goal is not necessarily for the kids to secure any major policy wins (yet), but moreso to get them comfortable being involved in the democratic process at the local level. 

That said, I realize there are many adults who have never been exposed to this process, so I am sharing an easily digestible, step by step process for testiyfing at your school board meetings:

1. Explain the specific policy you would like to change 

For those of you that have never seen a school board’s policy manual, it is a behemoth. Thousands of policies are listed, and you can’t expect school board members to have them all memorized. Therefore, identify the specific policy you would like to repeal or amend. 

Ex: “I would like to amend Sec. 3 clause 2, which currently states that teachers need to submit all grades before the end of the marking period.”

By defining it for the board, they are reminded of the purpose for that policy. 

2. Explain the deficiencies of the current policy

Before explaining how you would like to change the policy, you need to let the school board members know why it is insufficient as it currently stands.

Ex: “This policy currently gives teachers too much time to submit grades. As a result, some students don’t have time to contest a grade or make an appeal until the marking period has already passed.”

3. Propose an amendment to the current policy

Make sure your suggestion matches the SMART goal format: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. Then explain the benefits of changing it in this way.

Ex: “I propose amending the policy so that it reads “…teachers must submit all grades within 2 weeks after the assignment has been returned by the student.” This will hold teachers more accountable for submitting grades in a timely manner.

4. Address/ reject any counter claims

Before the school board has the opportunity to question you, make sure you address any possible arguments that could be made against your proposal.

Argument Example: Some people might think that teachers are inundated with assignments that need grading and that it’s unrealistic to expect them to produce grades in such a quick turnaround.

Counterargument: “But I have teachers who facilitate 5 separate classes and are able to submit grades within this timeframe.” (It’s always good to invite an expert, or in this case the teacher you are referring to, to testify with you).

5. Summarize your proposal but give them no way to opt out

Summary: Therefore, I request the school board amend Sec. 3 clause 2 so that it reads “…teachers must submit all grades within 2 weeks after the assignment has been returned by the student.”

No opt out: “Is it reasonable to expect this change to be made by the end of the month or at the very least before the beginning of the next school year?” (By making the assumption that the change will be enacted, it removes the possibility of the school board denying your proposal).

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You can use this method for virtually any policy. Some will require more in depth research than others. But it’s imperative that we cultivate a sense of responsibility within students and adults to participate in this process, especially if we want to see a reversal in the way our society views civic involvement.

We can’t complain about the inefficiencies of our democratic system if we aren’t simultaenously willing to get involved. 

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Student Safety Disregarded at DE Public High School

Student Safety Disregarded at DE Public High School

On Wednesday February 1st, one of my TeenSHARP students was physically assaulted by another student at her school. The attack had been unprovoked, as proven by a video recording taken by a bystander.

But despite clear surveillance evidence, my student was given a 2 day suspension and asked to go home. Fortunately today, that suspension was revoked. But I want you to see the arduous process we had to undergo just to prove a child’s innocence:

  1. The student who assaulted our student [known henceforth as “the attacker”] walked out of the classroom she was supposed to be in without anyone stopping her.
  2. The attacker walked into the classroom and starts yelling at our student. The teacher interfered by stepping in between the attacker and our student, who had her back to the girl so as not to elevate the situation.
  3. The attacker dropped her backpack, pushed the teacher aside, and began to throw punches at our student.
  4. Our student is thrown to the ground, where the attacker sat on top of her and started pulling her hair.
  5. Our student managed to push her off but the attacker still gripped her hair tightly.
  6. At this point, the principal walked in and separated them.
  7. The students were led to separate rooms. No testimony from our student was written down, and she was immediately given a 2 day suspension and asked to go home. (Red flag #1- No investigation was completed prior to assigning this consequence.)
  8. Today, mother calls us at TeenSHARP and asks us to attend a meeting with the principal the following day. The advocacy agency Education Voices, Inc. also files an appeal with the school.
  9. The principal says he cannot meet with us until 1:30pm, as he apparently needs even more time to investigate (Red flag #2- it’s been over 24 hours at this point, more than enough time to interview witnesses). It is now 11:30am, meaning our student will have to miss almost another full day of school.
  10. He claims not to have seen the video, so mother and daughter quickly pull it up. Despite seeing the attacker lunge to initiate a fight, he still claims that the fight was mutual and delays a decision on the appeal.
  11. After waiting in the office for over an hour, we finally see the principal again. As we sit, he accuses the mom of recording this meeting, even though she wasn’t. (Red flag #3- If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.) Meanwhile, I started recording.
  12. The principal opens a file full of statements from witnesses and admits that our student was wrongfully accused, and can return to class.
  13. We asked about next steps, as in, what is the school going to do to ensure this doesn’t happen again. He said the only action they take once a student returns from suspension is a one time mediation with both parties. This is the conversation that followed:

*The girl Amy that I referred to was a girl who was assaulted and killed by her peers at Howard High School just over a year ago.

**Note the silence that follows after I asked if we could count on him for support, should the  mother and daughter decide to press charges.  What you can’t see is that at that point he walked away from us and got on the phone. (Red flag #4, why was the student and her mother never given the option to press charges in the first place?)

Not recorded: We asked if we could get copies of the testimonies, as they are connected with both students’ records. He said no and that he intended to shred them.

Moral of the story: This school made no promises to keep our student safe moving forward. A policy needs to be made to guarantee these assaults are not recurring. Options include:

  1. Increased monitoring of repeat offenders, including greater access to rehabilitative/support services outside of a one time mediation.
  2. In school “safety from abuse” gaurantees (i.e. restraining orders)
  3. Adding an appeal process into the suspension policy (currently doesn’t exist in their handbook)
  4. Adding a justification clause to the suspension policy in the handbook, where administrators are required to investigate prior to assigning a suspension

When a victim has to prove their innocence, there is no justice. Where a principal chooses not to protect a child, there is no safety. At one point in the video you can hear him say “there are police on the streets but bad stuff still happens”. Translation:  I accept that my school is unsafe and choose to do nothing about it.

If this bothers you, read your student’s handbook and see if these components are missing, attend the next public school board meeting, and share your concerns.

 

(Permission to share this video was granted by the parent.)