Citizens’ Comments February and March

Schools In Distress
Schools In Distress

As I mentioned in the previous post, I will be offering people an opportunity to publish their comments to the board of education on this site. To start us off, I thought I’d begin by sharing two comments from two citizens who spoke at the February and March meetings. Both of these individuals have given me their permission to share their comments here.

As I hope will be clear, I am not responsible for the content of these comments. Just because someone shared something with the board, and it has been posted here does not mean that I agree with the comments. The writers are solely responsible for the content of their comments. (I do, however, reserve the right to refuse to share a comment if I deem it necessary to do so.)

Mark Binner’ Comments: February 18, 2016

First up is Mr. Mark Binner who shared the following comments at the February 18, 2016 meeting:

Introduction:

Good Evening and thank you Superintendent Dr. Wardynski, District 3 Board Representative Mrs. Ferrell and other esteemed Huntsville City School Board members for allowing me the opportunity to present my Citizen Comment this evening. My name is Mark Frederick Binner, I am a citizen of Huntsville Alabama and I reside at ______. I am not representing any organization and I want to briefly discuss with you this evening my concerns, which are shared with other Grissom High School student parents about the current safety posture at Grissom High School. My son attends Grissom High School and is currently a sophomore.

Recently there have been three incidents involving student misconduct, which have included having a weapon on school property (29 January 2016), assaulting a teacher and fighting in the hallway (both incidents occurred 4 February 2016). These students have been punished according to the Huntsville City School Code of Student Conduct 2015-2016. These high profile incidents unfortunately highlighted concerns of potential systemic violence within Grissom High School, which begs the question to administrators “How safe are our children when they are at school?”

Bottom Line Up Front:

Even after the Grissom High School administration expelled and suspended students, Grissom High School parents are still very, very concerned, as you would expect about our children’s safety when they are resident on the Grissom High School campus. Do expulsions and suspensions curtail a student’s intent on exciting violence or bringing a weapon on school property? Our goal in the very near future is to be educated by the Huntsville City School and Grissom High School administrators at a very top level on the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) that are in place or potentially implemented to increase the safety posture at Grissom High School and for that matter all Schools in the Huntsville City School system. I am here not to complain or find fault – this serves no purpose, but in a broad sense I want to briefly discuss safety concerns and present result oriented solutions. Unfortunately today, we live in a world where people no longer think twice about harming others and the associated consequences of their actions.

Safety Concerns:

Based on my time limit this evening, I would like to take this opportunity to present four (4) Safety Concerns totally based on observation and conversations with other concerned Grissom High School parents and follow-up questions for further investigation and discussion for the Huntsville City School Board and Grissom High School administrators.

Multiple Ingress Entry Points

Grissom High School has too many points of Ingress, which provides a significant security risk for non-students or students that have been expelled to freely enter the school campus. This makes verification of who is getting into the school extremely challenging. The Grissom High School administration in my opinion will never have high confidence (100 percent certainty) that students and personnel not cleared to be on or in the Grissom High School campus are denied access.

Building Access Control Measures

  • Students, Teachers and Administrators are issued School Identification Cards. Are Identification Cards used as credentials to control building access?
  • Are there any plans at the new Grissom High School to implement card access systems?

School Safety Assessments 

  • How long has it been since the Huntsville City School district conducted a school safety assessment for Grissom High School and the other schools in the Huntsville City School system?
  • Has the school/community environment changed since the last professional assessment you had conducted? I believe the answer to this question with regards to Grissom High School is “Yes”.
  • What is the average response time for security personnel in responding to incidents of violence or fighting?

Physical Security Measures

Cameras

  • Can Grissom High School Administrators access all in-house security cameras from their Desktops?
  • Is the surveillance system protected with adequate firewalls so it can’t be broken into?

Use of Metal magnetometers (Wands)

Safety Recommendations:

You have been presented a few security concerns this evening. I graciously ask that the Huntsville City School Board and Grissom High School Administrators to please assess these safety concerns and review the current security posture at Grissom High School. I would also like to recommend that Grissom High School Administrators in the very near future provide Grissom High School parents a broad overview of current and future security TTPs – High-quality communication can actively reinforce culture. Finally I would like to recommend that Huntsville City School Board utilize security experts and Security Posture programs already in use on Redstone Arsenal if you have not already taken advantage of this excellent resource.

Conclusion:

In summary consider the concerns and recommendations that have been presented to the board this evening. My son and the entire Huntsville City School district student’s lives depend on your actions and security programs that you put in place to increase the security posture at Grissom High School. There are many Grissom High School Parents that are now fully engaged based on the recent acts of violence and will be watching for actions to become realities by both the Grissom High School and Huntsville City School administrators.

Thank You:

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss these concerns in further detail. My contact information is included in my prepared statement packages that were provided to the board. I would like to thank the Huntsville City School Board, Dr. Wardynski, Mrs. Ferrell – District 3 School Board Representative and other Board Representatives the opportunity to present my Citizen Comment this evening.  Finally I want to express my sincere appreciation for the teachers and staff at Grissom High School and all of the other schools in the Huntsville City School system – I applaud your tremendous contributions that you make everyday instructing our students and preparing them for the future.

Elisa Ferrell’s Response via WHNT: February 19, 2016

Ms. Ferrell responded to Mr. Binner’s comments to WHNT On February 19th via email writing:

Mr. Binner and I have spoken and emailed on a number of occasions about many different topics, the most recent being security at Grissom.

One step in keeping a high school moving forward is to make sure we know the needs of the students as they come to us. We are seeing several high school students return to public school from private and home school. When you couple that with families moving to Huntsville from out of town or out of state, we have a sizable number of new students. In response to the large number of students we are receiving, and the need to have accurate and consistent registration practices in our city, Huntsville City Schools is considering centralizing new student registration. We would be able to obtain school records from other cities or states more rapidly and efficiently. Prompt receipt of official records along with placement exams, would give us additional tools to accurately address our students’ academic needs. Those same records also allow us to evaluate any student discipline issues we need to address. We would be able to quickly identify the students who need extra assistance with their behavior, and work with their parents and a team of educators to help them with the transition to our schools. I am not sure if you are aware that in Alabama, if you are expelled from one public school, you are expelled from all public schools. The rapid receipt of the official out of town or out of state records would also help us quickly identify the students who are prohibited from enrolling in our public schools.

In the Summer of 2014 there were some inaccuracies in reporting on our SAFE Schools program. If you will recall, SAFE Schools was the program where we received tips on potential threats and reviewed sources like social media to evaluate the tip. There was public outcry against the program due to the inaccuracies of the report, so ultimately HCS discontinued the program. The SAFE schools program prevented several incidents that were very similar to the ones that recently happened at Grissom. Had the program not been discontinued, two of the three situations at Grissom would have been prevented. As an aside, Huntsville City Schools found when the public had accurate information on the course and scope of SAFE Schools, they were overwhelmingly in support of it.

We are always exploring and evaluating all our options to keep our students and staff safe. Our new facilities have been built with security in mind, and we have brought in experts in the security industry to assist us in the design. The new Grissom building is being built with an eye towards safety. Also, our new facilities all have state of the art tornado shelters. Considering we live in Tornado Alley, a tornado is probably the greatest threat we have to the safety of our students and staff.

One of the things Mr. Binner requested was a parent meeting where Huntsville City Schools would share all the information on the security plans we have in place. Revealing our complete plan for security would negate or eliminate its effectiveness. It would be similar to publicly posting the combination to a home safe. There may be 99.9% of the population who would never even consider opening the safe, but the ones who would, were just given complete access. Mr. Binner also wanted us to remove or block doorways to prevent people from getting into the building. We have fire codes that we are required to follow. In the event of a fire, we must have multiple points of egress to accommodate the evacuation of 2000 students and the staff and faculty.

Thank you again for contacting us. The safety of our students and staff is paramount to Huntsville City Schools. It will always be a top priority to provide a safe learning environment.

Binner’s Follow Up Comments

Mr. Binner concludes this discussion with Ms. Ferrell:

When I got home this evening, I had the opportunity to review Mrs. Ferrell’s E-Mail comments on my Citizen Comment that was presented during this past Thursday’s Huntsville City School Board Meeting. I wanted to take a few minutes to clarify two specific comments in Mrs. Ferrell’s E-Mail.

Parents Meeting:
Mrs. Ferrell stated in her E-Mail response “One of the things Mr. Binner requested was a parent meeting where Huntsville City Schools would share all the information on the security plans we have in place. Revealing our complete plan for security would negate or eliminate its effectiveness. It would be similar to publicly posting the combination to a home safe.”

With regards to the Parent Meeting, I stated in my Citizen Comment prepared statement “I would also like to recommend that Grissom High School Administrators in the very near future provide Grissom High School parents a broad overview of current and future security TTPs – High-quality communication can actively reinforce culture.” I looked up the definition of “broad” and “overview”. Below are the definitions of Broad and Overview from www.dictionary.com:
Broad – not limited or narrow; of extensive range or scope; main or general.
Overview – a general outline of a subject or situation; survey or summary.

Mrs. Ferrell made the assumption from my Citizen Comment prepared statement that I wanted an in-depth detailed presentation of the Grissom High School security plan. I in no way implied in my Citizen Comment or interview that my intent was to have the Huntsville City School System or Grissom High School Administrators provide the entire security plan. As Mrs. Ferrell states in her E-Mail, “Revealing our complete plan for security would negate or eliminate its effectiveness.” I agree with her statement and again this was not my intent. I recommended that Huntsville City School System or Grissom High School Administrators provide Grissom High School parents a “Broad Overview” of security measures to sooth parent’s concerns and increase confidence that our sons and daughters were going to be safe which on the Grissom High School campus.

Multiple Ingress Entry Points:
Mrs. Ferrell also stated in her E-Mail response “Mr. Binner also wanted us to remove or block doorways to prevent people from getting into the building. We have fire codes that we are required to follow. In the event of a fire, we must have multiple points of egress to accommodate the evacuation of 2000 students and the staff and faculty.” First of all I NEVER uttered or wrote these words with regards to removing or locking doorways. Secondly my Citizen Comment discussed limiting the number of “Ingress Entry Points”. Below is the definition of Ingress and Egress from www.dictionary.com:
Ingress: the act of going in or entering; a means or place of entering; entryway
Egress: a means or place of going out; an exit.

As you can plainly see from my Citizen Comment prepared statement, I was addressing “Ingress”. I never once mentioned “Egress” in my Citizen Comment. Let me make this perfectly clear – I would never suggest to impact the Egress of students, teachers and staff from the building so that everyone could quickly exit in case of a fire or other emergency. I made the assumption that points of Egress would not be impacted – In retrospect I should have made the statement in my Citizen Comment that points of Egress would not be impacted . Limiting the points of Ingress would allow the Grissom High School Security Staff the opportunity to monitor who is entering the school building and would be the first step in having students, teachers and staff present their Identification Credentials to gain entry. I believe that Mrs. Ferrell read too much into my recommendation on limiting Ingress Entry Points or perhaps mixed up the definitions of Ingress and Egress.

Ferrell Distorts the Public Record, Again

As an aside, Ms. Ferrell also claimed that the public “overwhelmingly” supported the SAFe Program “once they had “accurate information on the course and scope of SAFE Schools.” If this is so, why didn’t the Superintendent and the Board of Education offer the public an overview of this program before the Superintendent unilaterally implemented it without board approval requiring us to find out about it from the fine reporting of Challen Stephens?

This is, sadly, yet another unsupported claim by Ms. Ferrell.

Lisa Schrimsher’s Comments: March 15, 2016

Despite the length of this post, the purpose here is to create a public record. As such, I’d like to conclude with the comments of Ms. Lisa Schrimsher from the March 15, 2016 board meeting:

I’m Lisa Schrimsher a parent, a 1985 Lee High graduate, and being respectful of your time, I’m representing numerous students and parents tonight. I will be embarking on my 20th year, as a HCS parent next year. This is the first time in 2 decades that I’ve been compelled to speak at a Board meeting. I respectfully ask that you sit back and really listen to me as I share my concerns about the increase in fighting in our schools, changes to the Code of Conduct, and lack of support for teachers in regard to discipline.

I would first like to note the high level of security that you have at board meetings. I’d say that this is a safe meeting environment. It’s in direct contrast to the current environment in our schools.

In fact, the Consent Order requires the District to “create a positive school environment”. Right now violence is negatively affecting that environment. The quality of education my children are getting has declined drastically since my oldest graduated in 2010. I’m very disappointed in your inability or unwillingness to provide an optimum, safe learning environment.

The changes in the Code of Conduct have been disastrous, and I am asking them to be revised. It is obviously not working. It’s very hard to start a year with relaxed procedures, and then try to tighten them up. Students are very aware of the lack of discipline. Our children are becoming desensitized to fights. Observing defiant behavior is commonplace.

Teachers must be free to dismiss disruptive students from the classroom without fear of repercussion. Many do not believe that is currently the case. Teacher’s actions are restricted, and students know they can’t be properly disciplined.

I can’t help but wonder if disciplining students for videotaping fights was initiated for keeping the truth hidden. It’s easy to downplay fights as little skirmishes, until the public and nation actually see them. They are brutal, and it takes an unacceptably long time for adults to intervene.

Cameras are good for investigating after the fact, but they are not decreasing the amount of fights taking place. Students are aware of places that are camera free.

We have parents here tonight whose children are afraid to walk the school halls, who have pulled their children out of the system, and those who are planning to do so at the end of the year. Numerous families are leaving this system because of a negative learning environment. A poor school system, with which we currently have, will eventually take a toll on the entire city.

We have an increase in fighting, an ineffective Code of Conduct, poor support for teachers regarding discipline, and a deplorable teacher retention rate. It’s up to you to make the necessary changes for the good of our students, parents, teachers, and community.

I stand before you tonight as a parent, addressing our superintendent, asking him to care about our children. Thank you very much for listening to my concerns.

Laurie McCaulley Responds Via WAFF: March 15, 2016

Ms. Schrimsher received no direct response from the board, but board president Laurie McCaulley said the following to WAFF in an interview with Ms. Schrimsher after the meeting:

There have been incidents where children come to school and not act the way we want them to act, but we’re not prepared to throw them away because we have no disposable children.

While I am grateful to Ms. McCaulley for the clarification that there are “no disposable children,” as I’m sure you noticed in Ms. Schrimsher’s comments at no time did she suggest that the district should throw children away. This is yet another example of McCaulley’s attempt to make use of reductio ad absurdum (reducing an argument to the absurd in order to discredit it) logical fallacy.

It’s a shame that our board is more concerned about defending themselves than they are about defending all of our children.

It is also a shame that our board members will only respond to citizens’ comments when these comments are taken to the press.

There will be more comments from our citizens after tonight’s board meeting.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

2 Comments

  1. One would almost think the Superintendent, school board, county commission, city council, Mayor and the former public media now called al.com have a financial interest in the aftermath of murdering our city school system. Throw in the banks, architects, developers and construction companies. If some kid happens to stumble on a real education, wow, that’s great, and we’ll celebrate. But the real focus is allocating education funds to kick-back contractors and consultants. Huntsville City Schools will crash to the level of Montgomery City Schools. Redstone Arsenal/Maxwell Field, the funds will flow.

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