Dec 092016
 

IF PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE TO SURVIVE…

Commentary by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

Last week’s Blue Paper report on the re-segregation of Key West’s public schools has generated a lot of comments and questions.  What makes the new charter schools so appealing to mostly white parents? The video of a recent fight at Key West High speaks for itself. Academics are a great concern for parents and so is safety.

We had previously received similar reports of kids ganging up on a lone student: Four kids had cornered him in the bathroom. They jumped him, shamed him, and shaved his eye brows. The mother told us on the phone that she complained to the school administration but that a week later the same kids attacked her son again and that this  time they stole his $20-dollar bill during recess in front of everybody.

After talking with students we knew we called the mother back: “Ma’am, it’s really difficult to verify anything without your son’s name. The kids we talk to think that maybe those four are drug dealers and your son owes them money – [pause]– Money for drugs. Is that possible?”

“My son is a really good kid. My son does not do drugs.”

“How do you know?”

–[long pause]–

“I am taking him out of school.”

The problem for an investigative newspaper is that all of those disturbing reports we get about Key West’s public schools are unverifiable. Is a certain science teacher really stoned on a regular basis? Is it true that there are classes where the students do nothing but watch movies? Do kids sometimes OD in the hallways? Is nepotism and “bubaism” so pervasive that certain derelict administrators are simply unfireable?

School operations are completely opaque for the outside investigator. Schools claim they are just fulfilling their duty in protecting the privacy of the students but even the few public record requests that can’t legally be denied are reluctantly answered or not at all depending on how touchy the subject matter.  Some would argue that student privacy is code word for complete lack of accountability.

One thing only is certain: now that charter schools are available in Key West, a good number of – mostly white – students have rushed out of public schools like rats out of a sinking ship.

It is the beauty of competition with one serious flaw: deliberately or not, this exodus is rapidly causing the re-segregation of the public-school system.

As we pointed out, the numbers are telling: At Sigsbee Charter School 64% of students are white [non-Hispanic] and 5% are black. At Gerald Adams Elementary, 22% are white [non-Hispanic] and 28.7 % are blacks.

Key West needs to take this issue seriously. Going back 40 years is not an option for our “One Human Family.” In the early 70’s the racial tension in Key West schools was so high that it often erupted in tribal fights between students. During one incident, in 1972, a fight between white and black students went completely out of control. The city police cordoned off Bahama Village for an entire week.

Despite the fact that some racist comments managed to pop up during the last presidential campaign, nobody can seriously doubt that only honest true integration is the way to a positive future.

In the comments responding to our article last week some white parents blame the black parents for not applying to the charter schools. But others point out the lack of buses to Sigsbee Charter School or the requirement for parents’ participation.

Of the many comments a few points of consensus have appeared: Very few parents trust HOB Middle School. The sun seems to still be shinning on Gerald Adams Elementary School (even though it teaches to the highest proportion of black and Hispanic low-income students).

Finally, the Key West public school system needs to do some serious soul-searching. There is a need for open debate, for workshops, transparency, new ideas, reforms. Parents and students need to be able to come forward without fear of retaliation and report on the deficiencies of the system.

There should be real outreach into the black community to honestly address the racial diversity issue.  There should be a good-faith effort to hire black teachers. The curriculum should not be entirely focused on admission to college. The programs should foster in students the unquestionable certitude that staying in school will result in a better future. Finally, the School District should hold charter schools to their statutory obligation to mirror local racial diversity.

The general consensus is that the public-school system is not good enough for any students regardless of the color of their skin.

If the public-school system is to survive, it needs to embrace the competition and reform its methods. It must create new programs including vocational training. As a society, we must make sure public funds provide equal opportunities for students according to their merits, rather than according to their race or according to their parents’ commitment or ability to partner with school administrators. This is Key West. We can do this.

Kudos to these KWPD officers. Compared with other cities where officers are seen pulling tasers, guns, pepper spray, throwing punches at students, these officers took control of the situation without injuring anyone.

[Note: this editorial has been updated.]

Print Friendly
Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.

  13 Responses to “Fight at Key West High / Student Arrested”

  1. This might be like comparing apples to oranges, but some time ago The Miami Herald newspaper did an extensive investigation on charter schools in the Miami area, and also the voucher program and private schools – meaning religious private schools. I will be as succinct as possible and tell you that the overriding conclusion was that vouchers were a godsend for many African-American (AA) students (according to the students themselves who were interviewed) who were being bullied and had trouble learning because of other AA disruptive students in public schools. These AA students wanted to be educated and make something out of their life, but could not learn in their present school environment. They hated their everyday lives of being mocked for wanting to better themselves. This was The Miami Herald’s report, not mine.

    The big advantage of these private schools was/is they instill and insist on discipline and don’t put up with disruptive students. I have 3-4 close friends who retired or just got out of the teaching profession because they were completely frustrated that they could not correctly discipline students and/or the school system would not stand behind them when they tried.

    So, a problem and now the solution: That, I don’t know, but during President-elect Trump’s speech last night in Michigan where he introduced his new Sec. of Education, he stated that they will tear down and rebuild the present system, and among other things in the future their aim is that students will be able to go to whichever school they feel comfortable with. His words, not mine.

    They report, you decide.

    • Just as the democrats in Washington are going nuts over Trumps promise of school choice , the democrats in the Florida legislature were having psychological problems too when we created charter schools and voucher programs years ago.

      The democrats have always represented the interest of the teachers unions over the interest of our students. You can see that with the behavior of the democrat congresspeople now over the coming national voucher and non union charter schools

  2. Naja & Arnaud, ground breaking video identifying what can happen behind closed doors. The violence and unrest emerging from the classrooms into the hallways and corridors, are not occurring in a vacuum.

    Excellent work by the Police Officers on scene, stopping anyone from being seriously injured and restoring a sense of safety for the rest of the students. These Police Officers did not hesitate to get involved, at risk to their own well-being, and return peace to our campus.

    I had 2 years of combat in the United States Marine Corps to prepare myself for a first teaching job with challenging students. Many teachers are not given the support nor backing they need to run an orderly and safe classroom. A classroom that’s conducive towards learning, achievement and character building.

    I’ve seen many teachers betrayed and thrown under the bus by their principals, whenever they earnestly attempted to construct a disciplined environment in their classrooms. They were met with resistance by their disorderly students. Many times parents ignorant of the misbehaving facts concerning their children and unwilling to cooperate with their child’s classroom teacher; were able to persuade principals to go against the best interests of the teachers and students.

    Great video Naja and Arnaud. People trust you…

    With a new term or new School Superintendent, maybe it’s time for the School Board to focus on what is, and what is not happening in our classrooms. They turned down the consciousness expanding and awareness uplifting scholarship programs ($10,000) that I offered to bring into our 3 high schools, at no charge to the district.

    Perhaps, they have a better Idea…

  3. Some things never change. My high school years sucked at KWHS. I was bullied and had a lot of fights because I wouldn’t put up with people trying to put me down and make me feel like I was less than them. I had people ruin my moped and knew who did reported it and nothing was done. There was never justice so I had to take it into my hands.

    The VP never did anything the guidance counselor failed me none of any the administration cared enough to reach out and find out why by my senior year I was skipping classes and not caring about school. They simply are reactionary when things happen and do absolutely nothing to prevent the why.

    The administration failed me and despite all that I ended up very successful in life. Because I had a never say die attitude. Unfortunately not all kids have that. Some end up shooting up the school and then everyone is like oh whyyy?? The why is because the kids who are the bullies are usually the popular kids from well to do families and the bubba system protects them. Yeah there might be a suspension but what about after? The bullied and bullies are right back into the same classes together and the cycle continues.

  4. UnforgivenRanger

    Excellent Commentary. .. From my perspective as a Teacher, I’ve shared your experience many times through my students. What makes it horrific, as you’ve stated, those running the school did nothing to protect the students under their care from being chronically bullied. Many times it was the well-connected students who got away with “bully type behavior”; never being held accountable nor punitively consequenced.

    One of my disabled students had gone bald because of an illness he suffered from. He wore a knit cap at school to conceal this fact. In between classes, some of the bigger students would take the cap from his head and throw it around between themselves, as they teased and denigrated this disabled student.

    Alerted to this violation, I waited, watched and flew out of my classroom upon seeing this infraction and followed this group of students to their classroom. I made contact with them and explained how disappointed I was in them. I shared with them that I found it difficult to contain myself when I witnessed what had just happened. I informed them that I loved my students and I didn’t want to be put in a situation like this again.

    I made certain to be up close and real personal with my admonitions, perhaps I may have brushed up against them. They surrendered the young man’s cap, and over the next 20 years nothing like that ever happened again.

    I have strong feelings and beliefs concerning abusive behavior by students on other students; whether it’s criminal or simply inappropriate. All Children must feel safe and secure in their schools, all the time. Unfortunately, it appears school administrators and board members don’t rank this as a prioritized concern.

    UnforgivenRanger, perhaps you’d be willing to share a ‘guest column’ with “The Blue Paper”, addressing these seriously underreported injustices and violations.

    Thank you…Blessings & Respect to You Always…

  5. I find all of this disturbing. Thankfully back when I was in school we never needed or seen cops. Were no drugs in school. At worst teens had cigarette and a pocket knife. But back then you could get paddled and were raised to respect adults.

    Now we have a kid with a serious criminal arrest record that will haunt him the rest of his life. Bullying has always been around and likely always will be.

  6. Don’t complain to a lame, disinterested school administration. File a criminal complaint! That is the only way you will get justice for your child.

  7. Dr. Larry Murray

    Unfortunately, your insight and recommendation are “Spot On”….

    In many instances, fear on the part of parents, causes hesitation when it comes to moving forward with a criminal complaint.

    Retribution, revenge and being singled out by peers as a snitch; are just a few of the adverse consequences that may await them.

    Battery, Assault and many forms of “Bullying Abuse” are criminal offenses. If parents held school administrations accountable, each and every time their children were touched, verbally assaulted or abused by another student, at every school up and down the Keys; this type of nonsense would stop immediately.

    Dr. Murray, thanks for your simple and succinct “Remedy”… Blessings & Respect…

    • The idea is how it could be handled and could. Now look at what would actually happen. The student reports it to main department. Actually should call 911 if it just happened as it is a crime. Now look at how it will be handled. A cop will take the report, if the victim knows the kids name then the cop must try to locate that student and place him under arrest and book him. Lee would have a huge mess to deal with and hands it to Vogel. She will take no action and case dropped. NOW WHAT ?

  8. JimInKeyWest

    Always good to hear from you. The structure, regimentation and discipline established in a classroom so that learning, thinking and skill acquisition may take place; will usually set the tone under which students behave and interact with one another, throughout the school day.

    An exciting, successful and energized classroom experience breeds happy students and positive outcomes.

    Calling 911 is never required, once the aforementioned learning environments are firmly established and maintained.

    Teaching at a Maximum Security Prison for Criminally Insane Adolescents, provided me with the experience to learn what actually works with students in a classroom setting.

    Love, high levels of competency and intelligent dedication; while placing each “Student First”, is a fail-safe strategy that will work all the time, for all students…

    • I partially agree. But we both likely were going to school in the same decade where respect was demanded. Kids today know how little control a teacher has. Have a nephew that was driving a school bus. Shocked the hell out of me when he showed me his bus equipped with 3 cameras along with audio to protect not just the kids but him. They all went to a black box he had no access to.

      Yes , a school room under control makes a great learning center but this is part of what seems to be the issue. Now we enter the new age we have kids that do not care to learn and just going because of law.

      Now as a parent that wants the best for your kids it seems that a charter school is a better option. Yes , it looks and likely is segregation but might be the only solution. Will always be students that don’t care to learn. Back about 25 years ago when we lived in the keys the local school wanted us to send our 2 year old to school. Reason was simple, they are paid by the head count. Was all about MONEY. And likely this is what is going on yet today. Public school has no entrance requirements unlike private schools or college. I see both sides of the issue and yes if allowed to go as it now is then yes charter schools is the way to go. It effectively is keeping the poor blacks out and grouping them into public schools with a below standards level. No idea how to fix this and not sure if the poor blacks even want it fixed. Education is your only chance to succeed in life. I wish I had gotten more education but got as much as I could at the time. Yes done fine with what I received but maybe done bit better with a bit more. If could start over likely been a lawyer but too late now.

  9. JimInKeyWest

    You make excellent points as usual. Your integrity and courage are clearly evident, as the ideas you’ve shared have depth, based upon your personal experience.

    I believe we have some similar insights. Our dialog created a richer understanding for the reading audience.

    Many thanks for the thoughtful contributions you’ve published.

    Blessings & Respect…