District parents expressed disapproval of anti-mask demonstrations on school property last month while classes were in session, speaking at the Warwick Valley School District board meeting on March 17. during public comment.
While each expressed appreciation for the school board and administration in general, and for following public health rules concerning mask mandates in particular, they worried about danger from demonstrators, should they be armed.
Lauren Vitkovsky, parent of three district students, praised the administration: “Thank you for following the rules regarding state [mask] mandates...It’s important (to model for children) to follow the rules.”
Still, she pointed out that students who wanted to have a demonstration protesting gun violence in schools were made to leave campus to do so, while last month’s anti-mask demonstrators “pressed up against (school building) windows...This was simply to create disruption.”
She asked the administration why this protest was allowed on-campus. During the disturbance, Vitkovsky added that she received texts from her daughter in high school that kids outside the building were yelling ‘F_ the masks.’
“Why was the protestors’ right to free speech more important” than the rights of the students to have their education free of interruption? she asked.
Vitkovsky concluded with appreciation for Superintendent of Schools David Leach’s comment that “One disruption was one too many,” but added that she wanted to know what the administration will do to prevent disruptions of this kind from happening in the future.
Meghan Coyle, a parent of three – including a student at Park Avenue – thanked the BOE for their “tireless work to get students through the pandemic.”
“I believe the Board has students’ best interests in mind,” she continued, but added that she was concerned about random, unscreened individuals being allowed to protest on school property with classes in session, and invoked the danger of school shootings.
Coyle said that there had “yet to be an adequate statement (from the administration) on this,” given that “protestors felt they had a right to be there.”
She added that she’s been in schools during lockdown drills and was shocked that it occurred to no one in authority that there could the potential for a school shooting, given that “we live in a polarized town, in a politically divided time.”
“When your child is born the same year as Sandy Hook (where 20 children were fatally shot in an elementary school),” Coyle continued, these fears don’t leave you.
She added that she lives near the local EMS, and worries whenever she hears their sirens whether they are responding to a school-based incident.
Coyle concluded that she’s opposed to schools being used as protest sites, when there is a chance of compromising students’ safety.
“I appreciate that this might’ve been an unprecedented circumstance,” district parent Kristina Hoti (who had written to the editor of the WA) said, but “in the wake of the pandemic for the past two years, the community has faced a lot of stress.”
“While a few people have said bad things about me, I haven’t been in a building without being approached by someone – people who were against mask wearing and those who were for it.” People, she said, “told me I was brave.”
Teachers told her that she said things that “they were feeling, but were not empowered to share (publicly).”
She referred the board back to last year’s stakeholder meeting: “Now that mask mandates have been lifted,” Hoti said, she urged the board to “collect data” to get feedback, “without backlash,” about the pandemic, what teachers can and cannot teach, and so on.
“We need stakeholder engagement,” especially on the part of students, she said. The district and the Warwick Police Department, she continued, need to understand that this is not only a matter of physical safety, but emotional safety as well.
Hoti added that medical professionals have declared a mental health crisis among young people in this country, and that “We need the district to respond accordingly.”
Although the school board and administration typically do not respond to public comment, Leach made an exception to address this issue.
“It’s certainly unacceptable,” Leach said, “for any child’s education to be disrupted.”
“Public school is not public property, in the same way as Railroad Green or (public) sidewalks.”
Leach added that the WV district is working with WPD to clarify where people can congregate in the future: he added that the district “will ensure that there’s a different (police) response going forward,” if people try to disrupt schools in the future.
“There’s a clear understanding by the police department” Leach continued, “that people can’t block egresses,” be in front of school buildings, etc.
Leach wanted to “reassure” the public that future protests would be handled differently.
Regarding mental health feedback, Leach pointed out that upcoming work sessions are not “one size fits all,” but encouraged the public to attend meetings to see how the district is dealing with that issue.
As to doing a survey, Leach said that there was no climate survey in the midst of the pandemic, but “Tri-State is coming and getting teachers’ feedback,” regarding literacy, and improving the curriculum. He added that WV is the only district in the area doing so.
And as to mental health: It is a “daunting” issue facing Warwick and districts around the country.
He added that it is “imperative to use multiple measures for all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, staff, administration, the public)” to take the temperature of the district.
The school district has proposed a $102,009,761 budget for the upcoming 2022-23 school year. Current revenue is budgeted at $101,630,077 – a shortfall of $379,684.
To close the budget gap, the administration is looking into possible cuts in the following areas: facilities and resources; some COVID-19 mitigation measures; non-instructional areas.
In addition to the budget, the district will likely have a bus proposition on the ballot, as well as three open seats on the school board (BOE president Keith Parsons, Vice President Eilleen Gagliano, and board member Denise Ginley all have terms that are up in June).
NEXT: April 7 – Budget work sessionApril 21 – Board of Education adopts budgetMay 5 – Budget hearingMay 17 – Budget vote and school board elections
“When your child is born the same year as Sandy Hook (where 20 children were fatally shot in an elementary school), these fears don’t leave you.” - Meghan Coyle