Don’t let Bill Thompson’s incompetence fool you, part 1: your School Board, other than me and Kay Fields, may well approve the Guardian program if you don’t stop them

Don’t let Bill Thompson’s incompetence fool you, part 1: your School Board, other than me and Kay Fields, may well approve the Guardian program if you don’t stop them

What follows is a typically lazy and inaccurate passage from Ledger editorial writer Bill Thompson. What separates it from normal, and makes it worthy for attention, is the civic importance of its misinformation. Here’s the quote, addressing our school safety work session last week with Sheriff Grady Judd and a whole bunch of silent police chiefs: “Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd foreclosed on the idea of arming teachers even before Scott enacted the Coach Aaron Feiss Guardian Program, named for one of the three Douglas High faculty members slain in the Feb. 14 attack. And it appears, so far, the board agrees with her. Only one board member, Sarah Beth Reynolds, publicly expressed openness to the idea.” There are four errors in the three sentences of that one paragraph. Two are serious, one highly disrespectful in its carelessness, and another just routinely disrespectful in its carelessness. (That’s more than an error per sentence, Brian Burns. Just FYI. Is this what we subscribers are paying for? Stop letting this guy misinform the public and hurt your hard working reporters for no value in return. Please.) First, Jackie Byrd did not “foreclose” on the idea of arming teachers; she opposed it. The Legislature and U.S. Senate Candidate Rick Scott foreclosed on it in the law itself. Here’s what it says. Click to enlarge: You may notice a sentence that reads: “Excluded from participating in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program are individuals who exclusively perform classroom duties as classroom teachers as defined in s. 1012.01(2)(a).” There is a touch of wiggle room in the word “exclusively”; but by all appearances, this exclusion would apply to both teachers I know who expressed support for the idea of serving as guardians, at least in theory. I can’t count how many I’ve talked to who oppose it. (If you’re asking, “wait, who is even left to arm after you exclude teachers?” then you are asking the right question. I will answer it later this week.) Second, Bill misspelled Aaron Feis’ name. That suggests to me Bill did not care enough about Aaron Feis’ sacrifice to read the law named for him. As you can see, that law spelled Feis’ name correctly in almost exactly the same spot it excluded classroom teachers from the program. The School Board seems inclined to arm…somebody, anybody Third, and most important for Polk County, Bill is completely wrong about the sentiment...

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End the Test and Die Era, part 5: No, Senator Stargel, this is a “comprehensive” school safety plan

End the Test and Die Era, part 5: No, Senator Stargel, this is a “comprehensive” school safety plan

What follows is a bullet list of proposals contained within Billy Townsend’s comprehensive school security plan. I think this would make a much, much better bill than the hash of bad faith political talking points that Tallahassee just bumble-panicked into existence. Context and discussion follows below and in subsequent essays. But I want to put this up front for readers who may not have the time to read everything. Treat guns like cars. (Or dogs.) Polk County should create a local county database of AR-15 ownership as a pilot program. Sheriff Judd, who likes to innovate, could oversee it. That would make it clear no one is coming to take your guns. But, if a person is flagged with a violent mental health manifestation, we would be able to know whether he or she has access to an AR-15 and act accordingly. We could add weapons to it as the stakeholders see fit; but the AR-15 has become the weapon of choice for mass shooters of all kinds, not just schools. So it makes a reasonable starting point. We would probably need a state waver/law change and the County Commission to vote on it, which is fitting. This is a community issue. I want Polk law enforcement officers to know who owns AR-15s in our county. That is just common sense safety. Provide every school with multi-person humanity teams, like that just created for Kathleen High. Model them after the very successful team at Lake Wales Charter High that significantly reduced violence there. These teams would do nothing but counsel; do bully intake and resolution; reach out to parents daily in friendly ways to make sure they understand what’s happening at a school. Whatever the humanity of a school needed, this team could do. This is crucial. And if I could choose any single reform, this is it. It helps far beyond mass shooting protection. All that stops us is money. Provide uniformed police officers for every school. At the elementary level, make school protection, rather than interaction with kids, their prime focus. Walk the perimeter of the school throughout the day; examine and report security defects. Think school security officer. But there are problems with this, too, which I’ll discuss in later essays. Approve the Polk referendum for continuing our local option sales tax for capital to fund any intelligent “hardening” that meager state funding will not cover. Consider adopting...

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End the Test and Die Era, part 4: of (not) arming teachers and the moral obligations of representation in a democracy

End the Test and Die Era, part 4: of (not) arming teachers and the moral obligations of representation in a democracy

Many teachers, parents, and members of the Polk County public have reached out to me to share their thoughts on what’s come to be called the “marshals” plan. These people overwhelmingly oppose the idea of arming teachers and introducing more weapons into schools. I would say the disparity runs 85-15. And that’s charitable for the 15. I am clearly aware of only one teacher who supports the idea, although I am sure there are more. (I am happy to hear from you.) Let me state clearly: if I were a teacher faced with an AR-15-armed person on a rampage in my classroom, I would want a weapon in my hand. I understand that. However, that weapon wouldn’t magically appear in my hand at that exact moment. It will have to be attached to me, among my kids and peers, at all times leading to that moment, which math dictates will almost certainly never come. That gun, attached to a human being among children in a confined space, poses its own threat at all times. That is the core conundrum of the Sentinel/Marshal program. To her credit, the teacher I know who supports the marshal program understands and acknowledges the risk — and opposing points-of-view. She’s just done a different kind of math than most people I’ve heard from, including myself, have done. The opposition I’ve heard to the marshals plan is not just comprehensive; it is intense. Many have told me they will pull their kids out of school or leave the profession over it. One never knows how serious to take those threats. But it illustrates the feeling of the opposition. And it’s not particularly helpful at a time when we already have a teacher shortage. A package designed to divide In short, building the idea of arming teachers into a school safety legislative package is an extraordinarily divisive political act at a time when consensus ought to be a priority. Imposing it on districts, like Kelli Stargel and the Florida Senate are poised to do, will inject massive dissension into a public school system already struggling with acute stress in Florida. I have already laid out my operational opposition to arming teachers. It is based, in part, on Sheriff Judd’s wise position on the jails he operates. He doesn’t allow his detention deputies or staff to carry weapons during routine duties. That also happens to be law enforcement...

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End the Test-and-Die era, part 3: the prime operational reasons for not arming teachers

End the Test-and-Die era, part 3: the prime operational reasons for not arming teachers

Law enforcement professionals, including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, generally do not allow detention deputies to carry weapons as they do routine oversight of inmates in their jails. This is sound thinking and policy. A jail is a confined space full of people who live within it involuntarily. Some of them, although probably not as many as you would think, are volatile and violent. A gun is power. In a confined space, with involuntarily confined people, it exerts a constant gravity and the endless possibility of violent disruption. Law enforcement professionals know this. That’s why they don’t carry unless they have to. Here’s what Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Wilder said when I asked him about it a couple of days ago: “Detention deputies / corrections officers don’t carry firearms inside the facilities because they directly supervise a bunch of criminals, many of them with violent histories. The possibility of them getting together and overwhelming the deputy/officer is an issue. Transportation deputies, bailiffs, etc. do carry.” The obvious concern there is that they would take the gun and wreak havoc in a confined space — because out-of-control guns in confined spaces can kill lots of people. Guns and impulsivity don’t mix well in confined spaces — or anywhere A school is not a jail. Children are not criminals. But some commit criminal acts at times. And schools can be violent places. They were violent, at rare times, when I was a child. They are violent now, at rare times. And like jails, schools are full of children compelled to attend who mass together in confined spaces. 3,000 or more of them in some schools. Like jails, schools are full of human immaturity. These children are developing. Depending on their ages, they can be grabby, impulsive, angry, depressed. Some have disabilities that impair judgement. Some feel suicidal. A gun is power. It will exert the same gravity and endless possibility of violent disruption in a classroom that it will in a jail. It is a deadly, shiny object. And unlike school resource officers, whose jobs don’t involve the intense focus of mass instruction inside a classroom, teachers are likely to forget about the weapon they’re carrying for long periods of time. All of that sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Ignoring data: the flawed assessments of relative threats In all honesty, I do not understand why Sheriff Judd does...

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We must end the Test-and-Die era, part 2: “Why do people think I’m a school shooter? What have I done to deserve this.”

We must end the Test-and-Die era, part 2: “Why do people think I’m a school shooter? What have I done to deserve this.”

The Saturday after the Douglas shooting, I listened to a recording of school resource sheriff’s deputy interrogating a Polk County 11th grader with autism. The interrogation occurred in the child’s own house the previous Thursday night after the shooting. It was accompanied by a search that found nothing. Prior to this year, this child has no hint of a school discipline record. None. Ever. He has no social media trail of threatening videos or postings. He is an active and eager participant in his high school band. He is as “normal”, I think, as it is possible for him to be. In short, his “profile” is essentially the opposite of the young man who attacked Douglas High after leaving a long public record of violent and aggressive posture toward fellow students. But this Polk child does have the bearing — the sweet, aloof, oddish bearing — that many of us who are not intimately familiar with autism generally associate with the word “autistic.” An uncharitable person might call him a little weird. I know this personally because I visited him Saturday and brought him a chocolate milkshake from McDonalds. His mom says he likes chocolate milkshakes from McDonalds. I visited him because I did not know what else to do. At that point, he had been suspended for five days by the School District I oversee in response to a social media campaign against him by various people somehow associated — students, parents etc. — with the school. This campaign happened, apparently, because he asked something like this out loud during a stressful moment: Why do people call me school shooter? What have I done to deserve it? Happily, and much to the credit of our people, cooler heads have prevailed. The formal punishment has been lifted. School leaders, in this instance, have led in a difficult situation driven by forces beyond their control. And there is an important lesson in that, which I’ll come to in a moment. Balancing the horrors of imagination But first, I want to make two general points that relate to each other: 1) I do not need video to imagine the exploding flesh of children as miniature, metal-encased pellets of death slam into their faces and thighs and hearts, exactly the way they are designed to. But my imagination does not stop with exploding flesh. It extends to the feelings of loneliness and terror...

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We must end the Test-and-Die era, part 1: You can’t untangle mass school shootings from school grades and stress-based education

We must end the Test-and-Die era, part 1: You can’t untangle mass school shootings from school grades and stress-based education

This may end up as a five or six part series. Bear with me. I will get to guns and the sheriff — who has not yet made a formal proposal — in part 3 or 4. I will do so calmly and rationally. But I want to start all of this with a history lesson and a correlation that you may not have considered. ——————————– It is a simple fact that the era of mass school shootings and the era of test-and-punish education rose together and have sustained together — on the same timeline. They are inextricably linked in the educational experience and imagination of my children and yours if you are my age. Ask our kids in 20 years to describe their school era in two words, and I wager they say: “testing” and “shooting.” You’ll have to make them talk in complete sentences to remember the joys of good teachers and relationships and projects and discussions and music and sports. To be clear, correlation is not causation. I don’t know of any individual mass school shooting specifically linked to test frustration or stress. But I don’t know any shooting not specifically linked to some form of toxic stress. When you pump enough stress or heat into a dynamic and fragile system, that system will fail and blow at its weak points. As extreme weather is a symptom of climate change, so, I believe, are school shootings a symptom of the stress of test-and-punish. Just like our state and national teacher shortage is. Stress, as opposed to healthy developmental pressure, kills. And for 20-25 years, bipartisan national education “reform” leaders have unapologetically pumped toxic stress into the lives of millions people who participate in public education — as students and employees alike. And they have been utterly indifferent to the human outcomes. Their bipartisan lack of self-criticism, their bipartisan cheap moral vanity has been the enduring hallmark of their failed movement. A bloody era is born This is from the historical overview of the Florida Department of Education’s website. In 1996, the State Board of Education approved the Sunshine State Standards as Florida’s new academic standards, which were then distributed to school districts. The State Board of Education approved a contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill for the development of the FCAT as an assessment tool. In addition, the 1996 Florida Legislature passed laws recognizing the Sunshine State Standards as the academics...

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