Large crowd complains to U-CF School Board about vandalism and the attitude of students
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
The big-ticket decision at the June 18
meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board was the approval
of the final school budget for next year, but most of the first hour
of the meeting was taken up by complaints from teachers and parents
about discipline problems at Unionville High School.
During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, which stretched to 45 minutes, several people spoke about specific incidents of vandalism and disrespect at the school, as well as a recent move by parents of some students who have been suspended to get the suspensions rescinded and erased from transcripts that could mar college applications.
Tricia Einstein, who has worked as a support staff member at the high school since 1998, told the board, “It's been a rough year and a half at school. In the past 18 months or so, I've witnessed egregious infractions that would never have been condoned by parents in the past, and which are now sometimes viewed as worthy of defense. ... Parents are pressuring our administration to back off on our discipline code and on allowing students to face the consequences of their behaviors. I urge you to stand firm in the face of unreasonable parental pressure and interference. Please don't just listen to the loudest and angriest voices in the room.”
A former UHS teacher who retired two years ago told the board, “As parents have pointed out at recent meetings, even our wonderful kids make mistakes. That can be painful when it comes time to face the consequences, but our kids must. The district office and the high-school administration must be a team. Making changes to agreed-upon and well-communicated consequences for misbehavior after the fact, and reversing decisions when parents and students were well aware of the consequences for misbehavior, is going down a dangerous road. When discipline is eroded, nobody wins.”
One of the most riveting comments came from math teacher Dori Ray. “I have been working in the district for 18 years,” she said. “The school library staff has unfortunately had to bear the brunt of some of the most egregious behavior. Students seem to take joy in causing disruption and chaos in the library. Our school newspaper does not show any respect for our administrators, staff and community, or to school board members. They print articles that are factually false, and attempt to demean our administrators and staff on a regular basis.”
Referring to recent widespread vandalism of school bathrooms, and their subsequent closure for repairs, Ray said, “If there is raw sewage on the floors of our bathrooms due to vandalism, should we let the students walk in it, or temporarily shut the bathroom down? If a student leaves a testing area after looking at the test and goes to a bathroom to look up the answers, should we let the student have an unfair advantage, or should we notify the administration? When a student shows up at school still intoxicated from the night before, should we allow them to continue in school, or should we alert staff and administration? When a student shows up intoxicated at a football game, should we allow them to drive home in that state, or should we notify the proper authorities?
“When a student draws his male anatomy on his leg and then pulls up his shorts to show other students, should we ignore him, or bring him down to the administration?”
Sighing to regain her composure, Ray continued, “When a student tells a teacher that it would not be a good idea for them to show up to class the next day, should that teacher just hope that threat does not materialize, or should they report it to the administration? When a student doesn't give me their name when I ask, so that I can follow up on something, it makes me feel disrespected, and that's not the way it was when I began here.”
A lengthy comment by Tom Colvin was eventually cut off when it reached seven minutes, well past the three minutes allotted for each public comment. Colvin, who leads the school security team at Unionville High School, said, “The entire back of my home was recently vandalized while I was here at work. Various employees have implored me to speak out about the acts of defiance and vandalism that some of our students have committed.
“Last year, we had a student write a threat on a bathroom stall that was serious enough to force the evacuation of our high school students over to the middle school. The behavior of some of our students who were evacuated is what I want to call your attention to. Almost every staff member I spoke to later expressed how appalling the behavior was. They were rude and obnoxious to cafeteria workers. They were openly defiant to staff members.
“Last year, we had a student bring a knife onto school property. This year, that same student brought illegal contraband and drugs inside the school. Last year, we had several students show up at school, still intoxicated from the night before. Last year, the conduct of some students at boys' hockey games was so inappropriate that the distict had to hire me to help control their unruly behavior.
“This year, we started off with a very unfortunate issue after some of our students chose to make a very unwise decision to drink alcohol before, during and after a home football game,” Colvin said. “A student was intoxicated, and spoke to the director of athletics in a very inappropriate manner. … After speaking to the student, I determined that he was not only a danger to himself, but to others. We notified Tim Hoffman [Director of Curriculum and Instruction], who was at the game. We also notified the three police officers who were working at the event. Mr. Hoffman was present during our entire interaction with the student, up until the time the student's father picked his son up in the main office. The student demanded that night, and several days later, that the information he provided be followed up on. Our administrators were forced to conduct follow-up interviews and investigations, and that is what they did. They did so fairly and appropriately.
“This year, we have had repeated acts of vandalism in several bathrooms. … In one day alone, we had multiple bathrooms vandalized, and one was closed while we repaired it. This is the same bathroom where, later in the day, we had a student destroy the door handle. Our security team reviewed video footage showing that the student had walked past this locked bathroom several tiems before destroying the handle. There was a clearly marked sign saying the bathroom was out of order. Over the past several years, I have witnessed increasingly belligerent behavior directed to all staff members, but more frequently to female staff members.”
At that point, Colvin was cut off, and school board president Jeff Hellrung asked for his comments to be sent to the board members directly.
After public comment, Hellrung told the audience, “I share these concerns. I feel them deeply as a parent and a retired teacher, board member and longtime community member. The examples of bad behavior that have been mentioned tonight are absolutely intolerable, and have to be ended. I encourage you to give feedback to our committee that is going to be working all summer on Policy 218, the student discipline policy. Get in touch with us.
“Our discipline system is not out of control,” Hellrung continued. “It has served us well over the years by serving as a deterrent. It has been consistently administered, for at least the past 10 years. ... We have not had an extraordinarily high number of out-of-school suspensions this year in our district. We assigned 72 out-of-school suspensions, two more than last year. Unionville High School was up only nine suspensions from last year, including those 20 suspensions that stemmed from one event in September. Thank you, administrators and teachers, for having the courage and resolve to enforce our community standards of behavior. … Let's stay calm but determined, and let's stay the course.”
In their vote on the final budget, board members Carolyn Daniels and John Murphy voted no, chiefly to show their objection to state rules that govern school districts that cover two counties, as is the case with Unionville-Chadds Ford. In the end, the final vote was 7-2 to approve the budget. The millage rate in Chester County will be 28.51 mills, an increase of 0.35 percent; and in Delaware County, the millage rate will be 25.15 mills, an increase of 6.43 percent. The weighted average is a 1.56 percent increase. Total revenues will be $87,093,540, and total expenditures are expected to be $87,103,529.
Board member Gregg Lindner said he understands that increasing millage rates by more than 6 percent, as is happening in Delaware County, is a problem that needs to be fixed. “I will take this issue to a State Senator who perhaps can have a discussion about smoothing out tax rate hikes like this one in Delaware County,” Lindner said.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, emai firstname.lastname@example.org.