THOUGHTS ON SCHOOL CLIMATE
Suddenly, the subject of
school climate has grabbed the attention of
But hold on! Lest anyone
believe that there is an epidemic outbreak of bullying and intolerance in the
Plainview schools, forty years of daily engagement with the district as a high
school teacher and for the past five years a full-time teacher union president
tell me that we need to think our way through all of the hype that has some
people thinking that our schools are not nurturing places where children are
safe and tolerance is central to everything we do to educate the children in our
is not to say that there arenít instances of bullying and intolerance in our
schools. There always have been.
There probably always will be. Neither
is it to say that we always do a perfect job of handling these incidents when
they arise. I think we could do much
One of the few advantages of getting older is the perspective that comes
with age. The schools I found in
1969 when I arrived in Plainview-Old Bethpage experienced far more incidents of
bullying and intolerance than occur today. While
there were certainly gay and lesbian students in our schools, I canít recall a
single one who was openly so. It
would have taken extraordinary courage in that the homophobia in our secondary
schools was absolutely incandescent. Anti-gay
language was the norm rather than the exception.
Religious tolerance was in far shorter supply too.
It was not at all uncommon to break up fights between students screaming
religious epithets at one another. Neither was it unusual for parent groups led
by community religious leaders to come to Board of Education meetings to protest
what they considered the favored treatment given to students of another
religion. Probably the insidious
prejudice at the time was the favored treatment of boys in our schools.
After all it wasnít until 1972 that the Title IX legislation was passed
which put the authority of federal law behind the desire of young girls to have
all of the opportunities their brothers received.
Was there bullying? You bet,
even though the rules for student conduct were much firmer and clearer than they
are today. Even then, however, most
students saw our schools as places that they enjoyed attending.
We need to be reminded of the progress that has been made.
Our student body today is much more diverse.
Kids of different races, ethnicities and religions go to school daily
with very little friction between them. Contrast
that to the one black student in
Thatís not to say that our work in this area should be considered finished. The POB Families Concerned About Bullying have raised some troubling questions that deserve to be taken very seriously. While there is probably less bullying and more tolerance in our schools today than in the past, thatís hardly any comfort to any students feeling threatened or disrespected today or to their families who want the security of knowing that their kids are safe and valued in our schools. Thatís why the PCT has urged the District to form a taskforce or committee like the one proposed by these parents Ė a committee of parents ( both from the PTA and those who may be unaffiliated but concerned about the issue), teachers, building and central office administrators and Board members. Letís honestly take stock of where we are in creating the best possible climate for our schools and develop a plan that we can all support that will move us forward.
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