IR educator: Teachers undermined as parents demand special treatment

Date Published: 
August 12, 2016

Teachers are trusted to manage classrooms, from grades to discipline. But when parents are unhappy with a teacher’s decision, they’re sometimes taking advantage of the system, according one local teacher.

At Indian River High School, students aren’t getting equal treatment when parents demand that the administration intervene, said physical education teacher Wendy Megee.

“I fear that there’s truly two sets of rules: The first set of rules for the influential, the connected, the friends and family of the influential and connected,” Megee said, “and the set for [other] people — we the people, in the community.”

Megee addressed her concerns to the Indian River School District’s Board of Education on July 25, during public comments.

“I can speak for myself, and I have a lot of support from other teachers and coaches,” Megee said afterward. “[Some parents] use their influence and their tactics for their child to receive special treatment” and have become empowered to continue, she said.

“When proper chain-of-command is broken, or when influential or threatening parents demand the way a team is run, a student’s playing time or position is played, or … a higher grade, and the administration says it’s OK — we do it with fear and pressure,” even fearing retaliation from the administration, Megee said of her colleagues.

Staff are discouraged in their jobs, she said, because “when an overly demanding parent throws out a threatening word … the governing procedures are waived, and undermining treatment for the teachers and coaches begins,” Megee said. “It’s not meant to, but that’s what happens.”

Students are smart enough to catch on, she added, so the behavior spreads to other families, and that, she said, is detrimental to the educational process.

“I have been afraid to object, and so have [others] … for fear of retaliation or, worse, losing my beloved teaching position,” Megee said. “We have remained silent, but I can no longer do that. So now I’m turning to you to voice my objection and to seek support and investigation for the lack of consistent, unbiased, unpressured, stable support from our administrators.”

Parent involvement is crucial to educational success, she acknowledged.

“We want our parents involved,” Megee said. Volunteer hours help the schools, and genuine interest helps the children.

Coming from a family of teachers, Megee said she supports the district, its teachers and leaders in central office.

But the special treatment needs to end, she insists. She requested more support for teachers and coaches because, right now, “Discipline isn’t always the same for every child or the parents.”

It is a problem on a broader scale, said former board member Donna Mitchell, concerned with a seeming nationwide trend of students undermining authority figures.

“School is not just a place to learn academics,” Mitchell told the school board. “It is also a place to learn life lessons, including respect, sportsmanship, good work ethics and manners. It is a place to learn that hard work will be rewarded with good grades, that playing time on sports teams is earned and not just given.”

Life isn’t always fair, but schools must teach youth to be responsible adults, Mitchell said.

“Life does not guarantee that we will get everything we want or think we deserve,” Mitchell told the board. “I caution … not to reward negative behavior because we want them to be happy. … Do not tie the hands of our teachers, coaches and bus drivers to maintain proper order and structure in their classrooms, on their buses, or on the playing fields. These are the people that you have hired to do that job.”

Afterward her remarks, IRHS Principal Bennett Murray said he had no comment, as he hadn’t heard the entire speeches, but he said the IR staff are welcome to approach him about school issues.

Avoiding special treatment young

Without a related policy in place, the board this week refused to approve some of East Millsboro Elementary School’s school choice list for students entering its kindergarten Spanish immersion program.

Although only 45 positions in the program existed, the school recommended a total of 49 students. The first 45 were accepted by lottery among the 55 applications. Four students did not go through the lottery process because they’re siblings of students who already live in the East Millsboro zone, said Principal Kelly Dorman. (They’re already entitled to attend East Millsboro, but not necessarily the Spanish immersion class — a relatively new program taught half in English and half in Spanish, so students pick up either language quickly.)

The State doesn’t say how many students should be accepted in the language immersion lottery, although the district tries to increase the kindergarten population because they need enough to complete the whole elementary program through fifth grade, said Audrey Carey. There was room for 45 at the school this coming school year.

“We were working with the State on some clarification — particularly in this program,” said Carey.

District staff chose to include them on the list.

According to the IRSD’s school choice policy, priority is first given to students who meet program requirements (which covered the first 45 students). Priority is next given to children “who seek to attend based upon the residence of the student’s parent within the designated feeder pattern, if any, for the school” (which the staff used for the last four applicants).

“I think you’re clearly in violation of our current policy by adding those four people,” said Board Member Heather Statler. “It sounds like … we have guidance from the Department of Education, but we have not changed our policy to reflect that.”

The board decision was unanimous, with Bradley Layfield absent.

The Policy Committee will meet Monday, Aug. 8, at 5 p.m. at the Indian River School District Educational Complex in Selbyville to review the issue.

In other IRSD news:

• Charles Bireley is back as board president, and Rodney Layfield is again vice president, after the July 1 organizational meeting.

• The IRSD’s next step in preparing Certificate of Necessity requests (which could eventually lead to public referendum and new schools) is to get professional architectural assessments. The board approved a proposal from $66,150, plus other fees, from Fearn Clendaniel Architects Inc. of Wilmington.

• Smarter Balanced state test scores were released this spring, so the board reviewed 2016 district scores compared to the state averages. IRSD students scored at or above state averages on every major standardized test, except end-of-course U.S. history proficiency.

Compared to last year, IRSD scores decreased slightly in grades 4 to 8 science; grade 3 English language arts; and end-of course U.S. history.

IRSD scores increased slightly in grade 10 science; grades 3 to 8 math; and grades 4 to 8 English language arts.

School-level data will be released after the State Board of Education meeting in August.

High school students no longer take the Smarter Balanced test for math and English, instead using other tests, such as the SAT and AP test for assessment.

• The district needs so much transportation for special activities that one company can’t do it all. The board approved a prioritized list of vendors, based on bids, who get first dibs on providing busing service.

• Due to extra enforcement of local property tax collection, IRSD got 103 percent of expected tax income this year (due to fees and carry-over). That’s an improvement over last year’s 99 percent.

The next regular IRSD Board of Education meeting is Monday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m. at Sussex Central High School.