Tensions are mounting in the Lansingburgh School District – and rightfully so. Parents have attempted to voice concerns about a recent school board decision, only to have those concerns dismissed out of hand. The attitude toward the unease expressed by parents shows an outright disdain for the welfare of families in the district -something that is not new to Lansingburgh.
Last month, the board eschewed a logical progression of events in handling a proposed reconfiguration of their elementary schools, voting unanimously to make sweeping changes prior to holding an informative public meeting. A meeting that would afford parents the opportunity to express a dissenting opinion and raise key issues with the proposal. As it stands, the current reconfiguration will result in pre-k through second grade students attending Turnpike Elementary School, while third through fifth graders will attend Rensselaer Park Elementary.
A public meeting was finally offered Monday night, but the board continually provided non-answers by saying real answers would be provided at a future date.
Gina Santiago, a concerned parent who attended the meeting, explained that the furor isn’t over the decision itself but rather, how that decision came about.
“This is the most significant structural change in a generation, and it’s been rushed,” she stated. “It was less than two months from a concept to a done deal.”
While the decision itself shows a district willing to bypass the people, the rhetoric since Monday’s meeting seems to underline the depth of contempt towards parents simply trying to have their voices heard.
Late Monday night, school board member Mary Sweeney, posted a message on Facebook that read, the ‘key to change… is to let go of fear’. But how can people be expected to let go of fear if their concerns are being flatly ignored?
Worse, those sentiments seem to echo another board member who responded to Sweeney’s statement with an ‘Amen!’ Lisa Devaren also took to Facebook last week according to parents, posting a message that stated change is inevitable and that “we can bitch about it” but “sometimes we just have to suck it up”.
Meanwhile, parents who attended the meeting have claimed that once it was officially dismissed, members let fly with a slew of condascending remarks. One parent who was present claims that Turnpike principal, Dawne Steenrod, made disparaging comments regarding the competence of the attendees.
“She made a comment that they will have to schedule some parenting classes and then laughed,” she said.
Laying blame at the feet of others in an attempt to shift focus from their own poor decisions is a staple of the Lansingburgh school district.
In November, in response to a 14-year-old student jumping from the room of the media center at Knickerbacker Middle School, school officials were quick to single out the girl as a “student in crisis” who suffered from “personal family problems”. The girl, who sustained multiple broken bones and other severe injuries, was clearly being pointed at as the sole problem, despite the fact that the school itself was unaware that she had gone to the roof, gaining access through a door featuring a disengaged alarm. Her path to the roof was also helpfully paved by the fact that a resource officer was not on duty that day.
Additionally, recent reports have surfaced that a 16-year-old female at Lansingburgh High had reported an assault to the school social worker. The alleged assault was so severe that it may have led to the girl having a miscarriage. School officials never reported the attack to authorities.
Sara Salitan-Thiell, the social worker, confirms that she was informed of the assault, but denies being required to report it due to the assailant having already been charged with a separate crime.
Salitan explained that the student informed her of a “pregnancy (that) resulted in miscarriage due to being beaten by the offender”. She did not feel it necessary to report the incident because the offender’s other “legal charges trump(ed)” this particular attack. The attacker had been charged and convicted of second-degree rape.
But the Rensselaer County District Attorney’s office disagrees. When questioned if the social worker had the duty to report the incident, a lead attorney responded that “they tend to agree” based on the social worker’s status as a mandated reporter for the state. The DA’s office also refuted Salitan’s excuse that other charges would have trumped the assault, because the crimes were different in nature.
Lansingburgh board members, district officials, and school staff should be ashamed of the way their workers respond to and handle a crisis. Rather than mocking parental concerns by suggesting courses in ‘parenting skills’, perhaps officials in the school district should be looking within. Perhaps they should consider taking courses of their own. Courses in empathy and understanding and legal responsibility, along with brushing up on their roles as educators, guardians, and ethical leaders.
Their past actions have not only served to frustrate parents, but have demonstrated an inability to serve as role-models to the very children they preside over.