April 26th School Board Meeting
Charging for Seat Time Recovery
During public comment, two parents complained about the practice of schools charging families for students to participate in seat time “recovery” hours. To meet graduation requirements, every student has to complete a certain number of class hours (i.e., “seat time”). If a student misses too many classes (regardless of the reason for absences), they are required to recover their seat time hours by coming during designated times, often on weekends.
Charging for this opportunity can create obvious problems for families who live in poverty. Whether or not a student graduates should not be predicated on whether they have money for such recovery hours.
Generally speaking, this is the type of scenario that the district does a pretty good job of avoiding. So, I was not surprised to learn that the district has already discontinued this practice at the two schools that were charging families. Glad to see the district handle that situation so quickly.
Fiscal Watch Issue
On April 25th the State Department of Education informed the district that it would not be placed on fiscal watch. The State Department determined that since the pending law enforcement investigation is local rather than a state or federal investigation, it was not required to place the district on fiscal watch status. The State Department did criticize the district for what it deemed an “unacceptable” 6-month delay in reporting the allegations of fraud to local law enforcement.
While I still have my previously-articulated concerns about how we have addressed this issue, I do think the State Department reached the correct legal conclusion on this one. Click here for a recent news article about this issue.
Metal Detectors, An Unpopular Opinion
Recently, the district began utilizing metal detectors at some middle and high schools. I have requested that this issue be placed on the next meeting agenda so that the administration can discuss its decision and provide more information about its policies and procedures related to the use of metal detectors.
I want to make it clear that the board was not involved in this decision, so I do not have answers to questions that some of you have raised. I also have my own questions and concerns. I certainly recognize that my opinion below may not be popular.
Before I get there though, I do want to say this: while I disagree with the administration on a number of issues and while I ultimately disagree with this decision, I very much recognize the enormous pressure the administration is under to keep kids safe. And I do believe that the district’s decision to begin using metal detectors was intended to do just that.
My primary concern about using metal detectors is that many school safety experts do not believe they measurably increase the safety at a school. Indeed, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers has expressed concerns about the use of metal detectors. Essentially, the question is this: do they really make kids safe or do they provide a false sense of security.
I am concerned it may be the latter. If a student is determined to get a gun in a school, they can find a way to circumvent the metal detectors. Moreover, almost every school shooting in SC over the last 50 years has not actually occurred inside a school, so a metal detector would not have helped in any of those situations. Of course, I hear those of you saying: “but if this helps in only one case, isn’t that enough?” Yes, of course. I’m just not sure this gets us there.
Meanwhile, it diverts finite resources away from the sorts of supports I believe do make a school safer: mental health counselors, more social workers, more hall monitors, etc. While metal detectors perform an incredibly narrow function–detecting (hopefully) the presence of a weapon–there are all sorts of behaviors that contribute to students feeling unsafe at a school. These additional personnel can be game-changers in terms of school climate and safety. You have heard me say over and over again that we simply do not have enough folks in these positions. Indeed, we are not close to achieving the recommended ratios of school social workers and psychologists. And we have very limited mental health counseling opportunities.
To an already-vulnerable and fragile population, the COVID-related school closures have been nothing short of devastating. Schools all over the state are seeing the consequences. In the words of one student with whom I recently spoke, “we are not okay.” Our kids are struggling, and I simply don’t believe we will be able to metal detect our way out of it. I would love to see us investigate ways to add non-teaching adults to school buildings. I realize that adding mental health counselors and social workers will take time, but surely we can get started. And we could begin hiring more hall monitors and other staff who are critical to keeping our kids safe.