Every once in a while, stories do get a happy ending.
Tonight, at the Smyrna School District Board of Education meeting, the board met with J’s mother and told her J can come back. All she has to do is write a letter to the district and they have to “officially” vote on it at their next meeting.
The board met tonight for a reorganization meeting. Several folks gave public comment, including myself. Local special education advocate Diane Eastburn demanded the board reinstate J, otherwise they could just “write a check”. A local teacher who does not work in the Smyrna School District said she has seen many students do far more egregious things with less of a penalty. Another gentleman actually thanked the district for expelling his son so he could get the services he needed. I had to scratch my head on that one but if it worked for that student! I will share my public comment below.
At the end of the meeting, the board voted on “student matters”. They expelled two other students from the district. Then a motion was made for the board to go back into executive session to discuss a “student matter”. The board’s attorney approached J’s mother through Eastburn and asked her to come into the executive session. About five minutes later, J’s mother came back out, smiling and teary-eyed. J was back in the Smyrna School District. Hugs went around. People were smiling. J’s mother wouldn’t talk about what went on in the meeting except to say they were very nice.
After, I introduced myself “officially” to Patrik Williams, along with other board members. I was very happy to see a peaceful resolution to this issue. But I will be watching Smyrna very carefully moving forward. And if there are other parents who feel their child went through something similar, I will be more than happy to intervene on their behalf.
This was my public comment:
Good evening members of the Board, Mr. Williams, Ms. Judy,
My name is Kevin Ohlandt. I am the writer of Exceptional Delaware. As you are aware, I wrote a nine-part series on a situation with a student at Smyrna Middle School. It is my belief, along with thousands of other Delawareans, that this student, J, was punished severely for a crime that did not fit the time. As I look, to the left to the left, to the right to the right (this was done purposefully to echo the song “Tootsee Roll”), I see a board that stood with the district for this student’s punishment even though there were more holes than a donut shop with the evidence. What’s done is done. The important thing is to do the right thing now.
I am asking this board to rescind the standing resolution that student J must attend 180 days at Parkway Academy. The state dropped the hate crime against J. J did community service and attended sensitivity awareness training. He wrote a letter of apology to the student he offended. I am asking you to stand up for J and allow him to return to the Smyrna School District this August. I am asking you as well to take a very serious look at how Smyrna students are disciplined. Parkway is for very disruptive students. I am not saying that option should never be used. But it is incumbent upon this board and this district to make sure every possible intervention in the local school is used before embarking on decisions that can change the course of a student’s trajectory.
Yes, I heard this story and wrote as much as I possibly could. I felt it was important to bring awareness to J’s story, not just for Smyrna, but for our entire state. I deal with education policy on a constant basis and no one supports local control more than I do. But with that power comes a responsibility to make sure the decisions made are the best for the individual student. I met J. He just wants to come back to Smyrna. He was in 7th grade when this went down. Who in this room can look back on that grade and not remember what they were like at that age. Students make mistakes. But when the adults make a much bigger deal about it than the actual offense, that is a big deal.
I recently spoke with State Rep. Kim Williams about our schools and a school choice bill she was working on. We both agree that every single school district and charter school should accept every single student that walks through their doors. Delaware has a dark history with expulsions and counseling out. And Smyrna has the highest percentage of expulsions in the entire state. We need to turn the page and become more tolerant of each student’s needs. Whether it is J, the other student, or any student. We need to bring students together when there is conflict, not kick one student out. I see this entire situation as one of perception. I can see how the victim saw things. But I have to believe the adults involved could be objective enough to see both sides.
Let J back in. Show a side of yourselves that is beyond this hardline stance you have embarked on. There are others like J and his parents out there. They are waiting to see what you do right now, right here, before they too choose to tell their own stories. Thank you, and please make the right choice.
This series opened my eyes to a lot of things. Things I will be exploring in the future. Alternative Schools: are they really doing the job they claim to be doing? Are some students using these schools, knowing they don’t have to do the work in regular school, as an excuse? How much money are we spending on these schools? Will Smyrna learn the lesson from this and look at using more intervention and less zero tolerance discipline? While I would have preferred this never happened, it did. And I made a promise to J that I would do everything on my power to get him back into the district. I don’t know if it was writing about this that did it, or if it was the public comments and tootsie rolls being passed around a board meeting. But it happened, and for J he is back where he wants to be. I also made a vow to myself that this blog would go back to its roots about a month ago. This series took a great deal of time, but it was a game-changer. Reboot the mission.