Editorial: Hazelwood School District has a teachable moment

It’s time for a reset in Hazelwood in the aftermath of last week’s student-protest upheaval. School district administrators held out an olive branch, reversing suspensions of more than 100 student protesters after three days of hostility among parents, students and community leaders against the administration. The district’s action offers a teachable moment that could help cool a long-simmering feud between administrators and the community.

Everyone involved has something to learn. Students who want to protest should do so in an orderly fashion, not running in the halls, shouting profanities and using vulgarities. Rules prohibiting that sort of behavior in school at all times should be enforced consistently. Students shouldn’t cut classes to make their point. Peaceful protests before or after school would be equally effective.

Students staged their nonviolent, on-campus walkout to protest the district’s refusal to renegotiate a teachers union contract. Teachers should not use classroom time to air grievances or manipulate students into fighting their battles. Administrators should be consistent regarding rules, follow their own handbook on how to treat student protesters and not hunker down when parents demand explanations for their children’s disproportionate punishment.

After initial missteps, the administration has shown that it is willing to meet parents, students and community critics halfway, at least on this topic. Those factions should respond in kind, not hanging on to old grudges and complaints that will hamper the district from moving forward to provide the best possible learning environment. Parents and administrators should start over by demonstrating a healthier respect for one another.

Hazelwood is responsible for educating more than 17,000 students. That’s a big job that requires administrators to encourage active parental involvement.

The district’s takeaway should be that while it has the right to enforce rules designed to ensure student safety and discipline, those rules must be enforced uniformly. The high school’s student handbook says disruptive behavior merits a warning or detention. Students were not suspended previously when they staged walkouts over social justice issues and had no reason to expect this protest to be handled differently.

Students said school administrators watched them leave the school on Monday and did not stop or warn them about consequences. The school’s head principal was captured on video telling protesting students that “no one has been suspended.” The seemingly selective punishment that followed raised many questions.

In the aftermath, the school board refused to provide answers and failed to abide by the state’s Sunshine Law, using a closed-session rule to escape a rowdy public session. Families worried their students would lose scholarships, and the district now says they were never in danger. They should have made that clear earlier.

The school district stands to gain more by engaging parents and channeling student energies rather than shutting down the discussion.

Source : http://www.stltoday.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-hazelwood-school-district-has-a-teachable-moment/article_e6f7680f-9d75-59f0-9c80-3255427cadd0.html

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