Scaremongering in schools: can we do better than trolling our kids?

I get it. Gunmen on the loose are scary. Sending kids off to school where you lack control is scary. And since our society seems utterly incapable of passing even modest gun control legislation, the logical thing to do is to protect kids in the highly-unlikely but still scary-as-hell event that a gunman is loose inside a school.

Thus it has become commonplace in many schools to practice “lock-down drills.” These are drills which like fire drills are preparedness exercises, but carry the scary “lock down” title and implicit threat of crazy people out to kill kids. They can’t help but illicit comparisons to “Duck and Cover” drills of the 1950’s, when the far-off Red Scare engendered the same type of over-protectiveness impulse:

In response to last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, schools around the country are now doing lockdown drills. Gananda School District practiced its first this school year.

“We are much more vigilant than we were 21 years ago. Events in our country have made us be that way and we practice a lot. We emphasize to the kids that these are drills but we must practice them like it’s a live situation,” Caulkins said.

The practice elicited quite the conversation yesterday evening on Twitter:

But if I may play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, what about all those fire drills? When is the last time you heard about a fire in a school?

The National Fire Protection Association says about 5,600 fires happen in schools, annually, resulting in about 85 injuries. The National Center for School Statistics cites over 100,000 public and private schools, as in buildings, in the US. That’s not necessarily a high fire-to-school ratio, but we still do drills every year.

Perhaps the problem is that we need to stop naming our safety drills in schools after disasters? Fire drills and lock down drills. There are any number of reasons – not all of them necessarily life-threatening – that a school might need to hastily account for every kid’s location at once.

Rather than the traditional titles, what about “inside drills” and “outside drills?” I’ll leave it to school administrators to stamp those drills with the antiseptic titles that are the hallmark of their profession. Think “lavatory,” but for fire drills.

If one drill means everybody goes outside and another means everybody goes to the gymnasium, the reason why doesn’t matter. No scaremongering. No arch panic if and when it becomes necessary to use one or the other. The kids just get used to a routine that everyone hopes will never be necessary.

Rochester Technology

Tech in Schools: RCSD responds to our FOIL request

In researching our series on technology in the classroom, reporter Mike Roppolo had some questions for the Rochester City School District for which only a FOIL request would provide answers. We’ve gotten those answers in an email from Debra Flanagan, which we will now pass along to you.

We noted in the original article that the school’s Code of Conduct had not been updated since 2009. This seems strange, giving the fact that the technology which is our focus has changed so much in the last three years. It’s hard to imagine that such an old policy could adequately cover this new technology.

Mrs. Flanagan responds that, while New York State requires codes of conduct to be reviewed every year, “districts are not required to update or amend it every year.” She notes that changes were made regarding students with disabilities this year. Why the publish date on the document is unchanged remains an open question. Moreover she states, well.. just read:

Not all changes in the District have to be incorporated into policy. Board policy is intended to provide overarching vision and guidance for RCSD, and the specifics as to implementation are contained in Superintendent regulations and/or written procedures. Superintendent regulation, “RCSD Regulations of Intervention and Discipline” (5300-R) implements provisions of the Code of Conduct; this regulation is listed directly below the Code of Conduct in the Table of Contents for Board policies.

So much for clarity. Apparently policy documents at the RCSD are like Russian tea dolls. But on the specifics of technology in the classroom, it seems clear that policy at RCSD is set in much the same fashion as other schools, with blanket policies that tacitly cover – but do not explicitly define – electronics outside of standard school equipment (em hers):

With regard to technology, the current Code of Conduct refers to inappropriate use of District equipment, email or Internet – this would apply regardless of the specific device used to transmit email or access the Internet (e.g. desktop, laptop, or tablet). In fact, this is stated in the Code of Conduct:
“Any direct or personal act or behavior which is prohibited under the Code is also prohibited when performed by use of computers, the Internet, cell phones, telephones or other communications media when the communication originates or ends on District property or at any school function, or may in the judgment of District officials disrupt or interfere with the educational process; or pose a threat to the safety of any person lawfully on District property or at a school function (p. 12)”

Two things worth noting in the above quote: first, “inappropriate use of District equipment” in no way covers use – appropriate or otherwise – of personal equipment. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the secondary distinction – that whatever incident took place on school grounds or at a school function – could possibly hold much water in a dispute.

But the second problem is: this policy concerns itself entirely and exclusively with what students should not do with technology, not what they should. And while fidgeting with a phone during class can easily be discouraged on any number of levels, the trouble with phones isn’t just that kids are using them to be disruptive: kids are also using them to communicate with parents and relatives. Where is the policy regarding these things?


Jon Greenbaum on Brizzard’s Corporate Agenda

Jon knocks one out of the park with his latest installment, breaking down the specifically corporatist background and inspiration of Superintendent of Schools Jean-Claude Brizzard.

To those who insist that all things can be run better that are run like corporations I ask: what profit is there in education? I don’t mean those ethereal “values,” I mean the cold, hard profits on which corporations are based. Because if you cannot find an intrinsic profit margin in something, then there is no profit motive. And if there is no profit motive, the natural course of action is that a corporation needs to either manufacture one arbitrarily or else fail.


As If Nothing Was Happening

I find this strange: Channel 10 News is reporting today that two school districts have approved huge renovation programs. I’m all for improving schools, but apparently folks in Irondequoit and Churchville-Chili know something about the economy and the state budget the rest of us don’t. Either that, or they are possessed of an irrepressibly sunny disposition.


Shoulda Said “Fireman.”

I know it’s all over Rochester right now, but I just have to pop in for the benefit of my readers and blogging buddies and give you a helpful career tip: if you’re going to lie on your resume (I mean really lie, not just fudge like we all do), try to make sure that the lie in question doesn’t involve being a cop.  They take it personal.

And oh, yeah: you’re less likely to get arrested if you’re not trying to get a job in a government building.


Worse Than it Sounds?

Carla Palumbo is reporting in on her blog to say that the batting down of the F.A.I.R. plan may be much, much worse than I’d thought, because the county may be stuck with the intercept plan without having the benefit of the F.A.I.R. plan’s school tax offset (which is the part that was ruled illegal).

w00t!  This could be bad.


Where, Indeed?

Mark Hare of the D&C puts in what is, ideologically at least, a decent op-ed for the paper on city violence and the role schools must play in curbing it.  My quibble is in this question:

Three years ago, a blue ribbon task force called for, among other things, the recruitment of 10,000 mentors over 10 years to work with children in need. Where are they?

Well, Mark.  You’re a journalist.  Rather than asking us the question, why not get us the answer?


F.A.I.R Comes Home to Roost

Now that county tax payers are getting their statements and realizing that, in most cases, there was absolutely no benefit in county tax dollars for having had the F.A.I.R. plan forced on them, budget crunches at the schools affected are starting to hit home with an even worse new reality of budget cuts:

Tough Choices for School Districts –

Wendy Lane said, “You want to cut some of the special-ed services, and then you want to cut some of the higher-education services. Well, what are you saying? You want these students to just be middle-of-the-road type of students?”

And that’s the rub of school tax cuts: no matter what you cut, you are basically denying students a certain segment of their education. High-performers who would be better-educated in honors classes – and possibly fail out of boredom in general-ed classes – might have to face losing their honors classes. Kids who need a leg up just to pass might face losing out on their best teachers. And of course, the music programs always take a hit when budget cuts happen.

And remember: either tax increases or budget cuts are the only options, here. Unlike the Monroe County budget, school budgets are by law restricted from running deficits of any kind for any reason.  So not only do tax payers get no budget savings from the F.A.I.R. plan, but in fact they may be looking at significant tax increases in the near future.

It didn’t have to be like this. It could at least have had the support of the public. But no, that’s not how Maggie Millions rolls, baby. She’s the decider.


Well, That’s F.A.I.Rly Lame, . . .

Oops. Remember all those savings that the F.A.I.R. plan was supposed to have made for county taxpayers? Well, maybe not so much:

How Much Savings with F.A.I.R. Plan? –

“The next line says last year I paid $530, this year I pay $626. Next line, I paid $432, that’s public safety; this year I pay $711. The bottom line, I paid a total of $1,943, this year I pay $1,920,” he said. That’s $23 in savings.

Now, keep in mind that the schools will be needing to recoup the loss of revenue from the F.A.I.R. plan. Folks take pride in their schools and expect them to perform well, so of course, they’ll pay the extra taxes to see that loss recovered. And of course, we’re still betting that sales taxes under perform state tax revenues in order for this to have been a good plan.

Bravo, Maggie. Bravo County Republicans.


Oh, About That Maggie Brooks “F.A.I.R.” Plan?

All of that genius fiscal planning Saggy Maggie did was predicated on the notion that New York State was planning on increasing funding to schools. Well, now there’s rumblings in Washington that this may not happen at all:

State budget ills put planned school aid hike at risk || Democrat & Chronicle: Local News

Spitzer and the Legislature earlier this year agreed to raise aid to local school districts by $1.1 billion this year, and $7.6 billion between last year and 2010.The second installment is due in the new fiscal year that begins April 1. But at a budget conference Tuesday, Francis and budget experts from the Senate, Assembly and state comptroller’s office agreed that state finances in the immediate future are shaky because of the recent Wall Street nosedive, the mortgage-lending crisis and the skyrocketing price of oil.

“When Wall Street gets a cold, New York state gets pneumonia,” said Francis, who pointed out that the state depends on the financial-services industry for about 20 percent of its tax revenue.

Have you signed the petition to end this debacle, yet? Can your kids afford you not to?

RCSD: What is Morelle on About?

What is going on over there at the Rochester City School District’s board?  And what does Joe Morelle have to do with it?  Apparently, on behalf of two recently-elected school board members, Joe Morelle is pushing to delay the decision for a new superintendent and allow them to vote:

EDUCATION: Morelle pushes for superintendent delay – News & Opinion – Rochester City Newspaper

Morelle confirmed late Friday that he’s been contacting board members, pushing for the delay. A man identifying himself as Joe Morelle left a voice mail for one board member last week, saying it would be a “grave mistake” for the board to pick a superintendent without Campos and Williams. City has a recording of the voice mail. Contacted by phone late Friday, Morelle said it’s a matter of accountability. If outgoing board members make a bad choice, then voters, he says, have no means to hold them accountable for that choice.

I find this all a bit strange, actually, since this had been a non-issue up to Election Day. Now, everything’s changed.  This all seems to be pressure to keep the current interim super on permanently:

Morelle, cont’d:

Williams declined to say who he wants as superintendent. Campos couldn’t be reached late Friday. But a delay would open up the possibility that there would not be a majority on the new board for any of the four finalists. If that were the case, a deadlocked board might try to persuade Interim Superintendent Bill Cala to stay. And Morelle says Cala should be considered.

If no one’s pleased to see Maggie Brooks use the school system as a political football, then I’m sure we’re equally enthused with the idea of Morelle forcing a switch of gears after all the candidates have been interviewed and the plan of action established.

There may be a perfectly altruistic reason for this change in plans.  There may be good reason for the State Assemblyman to involve himself in the affairs of the Rochester School District.  But if the cited reason of “accountability” were the reason, why would you not speak up earlier?

I’m looking. . .

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Maggie Brooks’ Republican Freak-Out

It’s getting nutty out there, folks.

RochesterTurning has, as usual, been doing the yeoman’s work in reporting the local political situation, including this season’s Sleazy Republican Mailer linking Democrats to terrorism. It certainly appears as though Monroe County Republicans are getting fairly worried about Maggie’s tax intercept, and pulling out all the stops to save their hides.

But then, my personal suspicion has been that most – if perhaps not all – of this in the plan, anyway. Maggie’s sitting on a million dollars and has nothing to do with it. I think the plan was to screw the schools to balance the budget, then use Maggie’s Millions to stop the electoral bleeding. Swamp the opposition in money, win back the majority in the Legislature, and then claim a new “mandate” for fiscal conservatism in Monroe County.