Thursday, 05 May 2022 17:05

Transparency in Schools

By Shannon M. Palmo | Education

SARATOGA SPRINGS —The Saratoga Springs School District has found itself in the spotlight again. It began a year ago when a controversial teacher brought in BLM Protesters to speak to his students, but the problem has morphed into an overall lack of transparency between the district and parents. A recent example centers on an assignment, from the same teacher, to read a short story titled “Gravity” by Tracey Baptiste. The story includes a graphic depiction of sexual assault, and language many parents consider vulgar and inappropriate for freshmen.

While the news about the short story broke over six months ago, it remains in the center of the controversy because parents want to know exactly what is happening in the school. In talking with both parents and students at Saratoga Springs High School, the key issues of drug use, violence and lack of communication have come into view. Multiple families have pulled their kids from the district and sent them to private school, while others who have stayed, are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of transparency from the district.

Both students and parents are addressing these issues at board meetings, but feel their concerns are being pushed to the side. Many parents are scared to speak up because they feel talking to the press, board, principal, or superintendent will be cause for retaliation towards their children. In speaking with multiple families, everyone agrees that the school district should address the issues. They want to see the school leaders take accountability and admit there is an issue with violence and drug use in the schools. “More accountability would be great, but I understand the fear that the staff and teachers have in doing so. It would be great to hear from the school about these issues instead of finding out God knows how” one parent said.

Parents are also questioning the curriculum. They simply want to understand how certain materials fit into the lesson plans, but they don’t want to be labelled as close minded, prudish, or a book banner. With the millions of appropriate items available to help teach the students, without crossing a line or pushing boundaries, parents are questioning motives. 

One parent mentioned that there would be nothing wrong if Dr. Patton had sent an email to parents saying “You know what, this isn’t what I would have chosen to teach if I was a ninth grade ELA Teacher, but the teacher has academic freedom, and these are the guidelines put in place by the NYS Education. Unfortunately, my hands are tied in this matter.” But an email like this was never sent, so it comes back to communication and transparency, or the lack of. 

As far as consent forms go, the students said they have not been given anything to bring home. According to one student, “If we are watching an R-rated movie in class, the teacher will say if you don’t want to watch it then you can leave.” It further shows the lack of transparency happening in the school from the student’s perspective.

Unfortunately, the transparency with the curriculum isn’t the only issue that has parents upset. A few parents and students told us that drug use and violence seem to be on the rise, and much of it seems to take place in the bathrooms. When asked about the bathroom situation, one student told us there is supposed to be hall monitors outside the bathrooms, and only two to three students are allowed in there at a time; but they feel as though they have given up on that and let whomever in. For female students it’s even harder to go to the bathroom, adding that there is anywhere up to five girls in a stall at a time, vaping or in some cases snorting cocaine and other drugs. “As a female we need to go to the bathroom, how else are we supposed to change our tampons when we need too. But if we go into the bathroom we get dirty looks and asked what are you doing in here” one female student said. Another student mentioned that the bathrooms are often referred to as “The Vape Lounge.”

“Students should be able to go to school and feel like they are entering a safe environment where they can learn and flourish,” said one mom who asked not to be identified. 

One parent would like to see the school addressing these issues since they are occurring in the school during school hours. Further noting that the “Zero Tolerance” rule is not working the way it should. Another parent said that the school should follow through on punishment for the students involved in the fights, and to make an example of them to show that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

Apparently the violence doesn’t stop at just fights happening in school, but spills over into texting, social media and voicemails left on student’s phones. Many of the students I spoke with said they received threats and have been told they should go kill themselves. 

As far as safety within the school, multiple students mentioned that the School Resource Officer helps them feel safe. One parent added that Officer Barret has been a great asset to the students when it comes to the violence and threats happening. He allows the students to feel safe and helps them understand the law side of things and what can and cannot be done. He makes sure he gets to know the students. 

After speaking with the parents and students, the question of what they would like to see going forward was asked. All agreed that they want to see more accountability and transparency. They would like some form of acknowledgement that the school has issues with violence, vaping, and drug use; even if it is to say “yes we know this is happening. This is what our current policy is, and this is what we are doing to rectify it.” While not every parent will be happy with that sentiment, most agreed that it is better than the silence they are getting. Both parents and students alike would love to have the communication and transparency from both the school administration and board. Parents understand that not every little fight warrants a communication with the parents. However, they do expect the administration to notify them when larger fights take place. All the students and parents want, is to feel like they are being heard; heard by the school board, the superintendent, the high school administration, and staff, and for them to acknowledge the problem and tell them the steps they are doing to make the school a safe environment for their kids.

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