Concern for kids amid public commotion

| 18 Feb 2022 | 05:05

Open letter to Dr. David Leach and WVCSD Board of Education

This letter is in response to the events of yesterday morning, and the extremely disturbing and untimely response that the district issued to parents, given that it was well after the fact.

Despite my own personal feelings and beliefs, I accept the fear, frustration, and anger that many families are feeling about the mask mandates which have been put in place in the interest of public health, and I fully support their right to protest this mandate peacefully, in a safe location.

According to anecdotal evidence on social media, it has been said that you were informed of these demonstrations by the group in advance. Your own statement noting your “abundance of caution” in placing additional security and police on school grounds corroborates this. In statements by self-identified protesters, it was noted that blinds were drawn in the school windows as these protests took place; a clear indication that this gathering on school grounds during school hours impacted learning, and that procedures closely resembling a lockdown were enacted.

I would like to draw your attention to the attached photograph of adults and children pressed up against the high school doors, presenting a clear distraction to the students inside. This photo is not a depiction of adherence to safety in the Warwick Valley Central School District. This photo is how I learned about what was happening that morning at each of our schools.

You should be ashamed of your actions in allowing this to take place in the manner in which it did.

You have a phone system that can send communication to the entire district at the touch of a button. And yet, parents received a glossed-over message, hours after the fact, telling us that there were trespassers on all of our school properties, due to whom you felt the need to add extra security, but not to immediately inform parents.

Allowing this group of protesters, who had already demonstrated a lack of regulation control based on the behaviors they exhibited at the board meeting when you needed to call a police officer over to subdue them, is a shameful breach of conduct on your part.

You did not approach these groups and restate the support you gave them in the BOE meeting, and request that they take their protest to the edge of the school property, or to a place where this decision is actually being made. No, instead you left all of your teachers and students to deal with the distractions and to bear the brunt and uncertainty of these protests, at the doors of each of the schools in the district.

We do not live in simple times; our children are being raised in an era where students of all ages, alongside their teachers, are training regularly to lock down and hide from active shooters. I am seriously appalled at the need to make this point.

Furthermore, the children in our schools have a wide range of abilities, learning needs, and life experiences.

Here are my questions to you:

1. Is the December 14, 2012 Sandy Hook massacre really so distant in your memories? Do I need to list all of the others? How can you run a lockdown drill one day for kindergartners, and on another day permit an unvetted crowd to come onto school property and press up against the doors to the building? Where is your commitment to the physical safety of our students and faculty?

2. A student with autism, a student who has recovered from past trauma or abuse, a student struggling with ADHD, a student who may have lost many loved ones to Covid-19...Is your commitment to our students’ emotional and psychological safety while at school so negotiable, simply because parents shouted at you at a board meeting?

3. How would you have handled this if you were in a working session and they were pressed up against your windows while you were working? Would that have been stressful? Now think about a 6-year-old.

4. Who were the people gathered? Some parents with their children, perhaps. Did you identify each and every one? They were apparently sharing their plans on social media, giving the times they would be approaching each building. Do they have unstable friends? Do those unstable friends own guns? Are the implications of these questions a reach? How much are you willing to bet that they aren’t? My child? Yours?

Do better.

Kristina Garritano Hoti (she/her/hers)MSW Student

Fordham University

“In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do.” —Dorothea Dix