Some parents worried about student safety at Woodland Middle SchoolA rash of student fights and threatening notes at Woodland Middle School has led some parents to question what’s going on at the school in its first year serving a combined population of Woodland and Ordean students.
By: Sarah Horner , Duluth News Tribune
A rash of student fights and threatening notes at Woodland Middle School has led some parents to question what’s going on at the school in its first year serving a combined population of Woodland and Ordean students.
About 50 parents showed up at a Parent Teacher Association meeting this week to air their concerns to district administrators. Typically, meetings attract fewer than 20 parents, said Deb Johnson, co-president of Woodland’s PTA and a parent at the school.
“When it’s your children, you want to make sure they’re safe, and I think some people are feeling worried about that,” Johnson said. “You are never going to have a perfect situation in a middle school because that is probably the hardest age of kids when it comes to school, but it could certainly be better than it is right now and I think parents wanted to get that message across.”
In response to parent concerns, district officials said Friday they will modify some of the school’s surveillance and discipline practices.
Some of the concern stems from three threatening messages left in the school’s bathroom over the past week, Johnson said. She said she also has heard parents report incidents of students pushing each other in the hallways, bullying one another and getting into physical fights.
“A lot of it is just general middle school stuff, but I think some parents have concerns with the way the school is handling it,” Johnson said.
Leanne Joynes counts herself among that group. The Woodland parent said her eighth-grader, Madeline, was the recipient of 25 threatening text messages earlier this month, some of which went as far as threatening her life.
“The school felt that the appropriate consequence for that was to have the girl apologize,” Joynes said. “If my daughter had done that, I would have expected her to have some kind of punishment. … Kids need clear discipline and boundaries or they can’t be successful.”
In years past, the student might have received an in-school suspension, but the school has done away with that consequence this year, which is another area of contention with parents.
Principal Gina Kleive, who is in her first year at Woodland, said suspending students isn’t the most effective approach for changing student behavior.
“I believe it deters the behavior but I don’t believe it will change behavior,” Kleive said. “The change in behavior has to come from the kid, and if they don’t know what their intention was they are never going to change.”
After the meeting with parents, Kleive said the school is exploring how to blend the restorative-justice approach with in-school suspension.
When students commit a serious offense such as physically harming another student, the school follows district policy, which calls for out-of-school suspension, Kleive said.
Joe Hill, the district’s assistant superintendent, said other strategies to prevent unruly behavior will be put in place as well.
The school will add more staff members to monitor the hallways, for example, and will increase surveillance in the bathrooms.
The school also will hold grade-level meetings with students to talk about expectations and accountability, Hill said. The district might explore some sort of text-messaging system that would allow students to anonymously text concerns or report incidents to a cell phone.
“Great leadership is coming together, and, working in partnership with our parents and staff, I am optimistic this will be a turning point for us,” Hill said.
The Woodland PTA plans to hold another meeting with parents Feb. 21 to reassess the climate in the school.