Friday, April 29, 2011

Irate Parent Confronting A Student in School Cafeteria

One month prior, the March 29th post titled Irate Parent & The Response of School Leadership. talked about a disruption at CT school in Thomaston. (I suggest you review that post for the recommended protocols).

Now on April 29th in East New Haven at Joseph Melillo Middle School (pictured above) a warrant has been sworn out for the arrest of a parent who allegedly (after receiving a cell phone call from her daughter) came to school and confronted another student in the cafeteria during the school. An excerpt from the story is as follows:     

INCIDENT: What precipitated the confrontation? According to East Haven PD an official stated:  “I guess there was a situation ... where there was food being thrown, and this girl called her mother from the cafeteria, saying that this other girl was throwing food at her.”  “I guess she’s had problems with her in the past.” According to police, “it appears the parent was ‘buzzed’ in the front door but did not follow the clearly printed rules,” which require visitors to report directly to the main office. The school has a security camera that shows who is at the front door, but does not have a camera that covers the area between the door and the office, he said. But he said the incident “happened so quickly,” and that as soon as the secretary realized that the woman hadn’t come to the office, she told Principal and they went looking for her. “Instead, she stormed into the cafe and confronted a female student about a situation regarding her daughter,” police said. The mother “went up to the other girl, and from what the other officer was telling me, got physical with her,” he said. “A male student tried to stop the parent and was pushed away by that parent,” police said.

East Haven Police Department Youth Detective Michael D’Amato said the investigating officer, will seek a warrant to charge the mother, whom police have not yet identified, with breach of peace. There may be other charges as well, he said.

What should the Irate Mother Have Done If She Was Concerned“Regardless of what the situation was between her daughter and the other girl, the parent had no right to take the situation into her own hands by entering the school and confronting anyone other than the principal,” police officials said. “She should have gone to the main office to the principal and handled it the proper way,” he said. 

  • Students and Parents need to know and be reminded of how to respond if they are being bothered by someone in school. Contacting a teacher, guidance counselor, housemaster or vice principal, or principal OR even the police are a multitude of options for a student or parent to use to solve a problem.
  • Students and parents need to be reminded of the PROPER way to contact each other during the school day. 
    • Parents and students calling each other and texting each other throughout the school day are an interruption to the educational process. It happens more often then people may think. This does not even address student to student calling and texts which is highly disruptive and can be used for nefarious purposes or have unintended consequences.
  • Parent or student communication during the school day will be addressed in a future blog.           

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Anniversary of Columbine Rampage Shooting on April 20, 1999

Twelve years ago the shocking school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado took place and stunned our nation. How could this happen? Why would two students become mass murderers in their own school? Why wasn't this prevented? Why wasn't the response more effective?  Despite how much this school shooting has been talked about, studied, and discussed; how prepared is your school?

I strongly recommend you read Dave Cullen's book, COLUMBINE which he wrote after ten years of research. It is the consummate case study of what occurred on that fateful day and will help you determine how your school can answer the above challenging questions. 

Friday, April 15, 2011



Tragically, a Yale student was killed in a school chemistry lab accident when her long hair got caught in a fast-spinning lathe. She was killed by accidental asphyxia by neck compression. She was due to graduate in about a month. The Sterling Chemistry Laboratory machine shop is a state-of-the-art facility to support the building and modification of research instruments. Only students who completed a shop safety course had access. Due to the accident, access to lab machinery facilities is limited until a review of procedures was completed. The lab and classes were cancelled. Yale is offering counseling to students. OSHA is conducting an inspection and investigation to determine if the lab complied with safety standards. The Yale Police are conducting an investigation to determine if any laws were broken.

Final Comment: Like all fatal accidents, this is a tragedy. Any loss of life especially a young student a month from graduation makes one wonder, how could this happen? One general safety rule is the two person rule. Hindsight is 20 /20, but the purpose of studying accidents after the fact is to learn from the mistakes or tragedies of others. In a lab or any facility where someone can be injured or killed, there should be no lone individual. A second set of eyes,  a second brain in the room, or another person's intuition can sometimes (not always) be a lifesaver. While another individual in the room may not have prevented this tragic accident, it may have provided prompt assistance and first response to help her.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Educational Leaders studying Leadership as a Lifelong Skill not just Management

Commentary: In my opinion, there is a clear distinction between educational management and educational leadership which is overlooked by many.  You can manage "things" and processes, but you must LEAD people. An individual in an education leadership position hopefully has achieved this position by demonstrated leadership potential or performance. This coupled with considerable quality experience in the academic world are the basic ingredients for the making of a rudimentary educational leader. I haven't intentionally overlooked the academic certification processes or programs in determining educational leaders. However how much of the curriculum is about LEADERSHIP as compared with MANAGEMENT?  Looking at educational leaders from a school preparedness standpoint, it is an area they they typically are not educated or prepared for in any educational leadership curriculum. So the majority of Educational Leaders are not educated or trained in school preparedness or leadership, let alone the criticality of leading in a school related incident where lives, property, or operations are effected.


The attached link (15 minutes in length) is from Maj Gen Stanley McChrystal (now a Yale Professor) who talks about leadership development and leading in the 21st century in a Web 2.0 world where leaders can become overwhelmed in time compressed and information technology accelerated situations. His concept of "reverse mentoring" is also an interesting reality of the success of today's networked organizations vice the traditional legacy hierarchical organization that are the standard in the US education.

In the year 2011, if you are no better prepared than Principal Frank DeAngelis (Principal at Columbine High School in 1999) or President Steger (President of Va Tech in 2007) for a life threatening incident (nature or man-made) to occur at your school than you are not a prepared educational leader nor is your institution. They cared about their students and their school so you must learn the lessons learned from their experiences or you will not benefit from them. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Va Tech Fined $55K for Delayed Notification of a Potential threat on Campus


US Department of Education fined Virginia Tech University for their failure to notify their school community about a potentially ongoing threat to campus safety. On April 16, 2007, when they failed to alert the campus after the discovery of two murdered students at 7:30 am. The 911 call occurred at 7:15 am and the police (Va Tech PD & Blacksburg PD) confirmed the murdered students in a dormitory. Classes start at 8:00 am daily. At 8:52 am, the University President (Stenger) had his office put into a lockdown and off campus PD (Blacksburg PD) placed their public schools into lockdown. Between, 9:05 and 9:15 am the shooter (Seung-Hui Cho) walked into Norton Hall and chained the doors shut. It wasn't until 9:26 am that President Stenger chose to notify the campus by sending out an email to campus staff, faculty, and students about a shooting incident in a dormitory (concerning the 2 murdered students). The campus was not placed in a lockdown nor told that a potential threat and gunmen still existed because they made an assumption that the 7:15 murder was an isolated incident. (In a crisis situation you can never assume away the potential or realization of a threat) At 9:42 am Cho's Norris Hall shooting rampage started and lasted 9 minutes and at the end of the day 33 people were killed.

Points for Consideration:
  • Analyzing past and more recent school shootings is key for school leaders and communities to determine how to best prevent, mitigate, respond, and recover from a horrific act of violence.
  • If the potential for violence, (let alone if a violent act has occurred) you must make decisions based upon worst case scenario and err on the side of caution.
  • President Stenger (ready or not, prepared or not, trained or not) waited entirely too long to put the campus into a lockdown. Two hours after a confirmed double murder on campus did not result in a campus lockdown even after two hours...? Unacceptable. 
  • Educational Leaders (Superintendents, University and College Presidents, Principals) need to ensure they have thought through and "done their homework" to prepare for all hazards, especially acts of violence. 
  • School Leaders will have to make decisions in a crisis with incomplete information, and if an assumption is made it is in preparing and responding to a worst case scenario vice HOPING everything will work out OR encounter the "paralysis of analysis: by trying to come up with the perfect decision vice a good enough decision that protects LIVES first.  
  • School Leaders need to take educate, train, and exercise their organizations and themselves to make good decisions.
    • Taking free online courses from FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI) on:
      • Courses on: Emergency Management Planning for Schools, Emergency Management Planning for Universities, Active Shooter Response, Workplace Violence, and Incident Command Posts  

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Patience and Preparedness Are Key


On March 29, 2011 in Thomaston, CT a mother was arrested and charge with second degree breach of peace. (She will appear in court next month to determine if she is guilty of these charges / allegations). This mom came to Thomaston High School and (as reported in the news) went on a profanity-laced tirade. The school administrators called the police because they felt this parent who came to the high school at 8: 00am to talk about her daughter had become unruly. During the discussion, the mother became belligerent and was raising her voice in the office using profanity, and started throwing papers around. She was asked to leave and she refused. She then departed the school before the police arrived as the Principal escorted her from the building. She continued to yell and curse in the hallway and foyer during her departure as students and other school visitors witnessed. The mother turned herself in once she found out there was a warrant issued for her arrest, she was released with a promise to appear in court later next month.

  • Parents, students, teachers, and administrators are a "team" that needs to cooperate and collaborate to ensure that everyone's best efforts and student learning results are achieved. 
    • Like any team, each team member can have good days and bad days, possess different levels of understanding of what is appropriate and acceptable, as well as opinions on how a particular situation should be resolved.  
  • School administrators and teachers always want to be available for parents and guardians that have concerns about students. However, that is not always possible or the best course of action should the parent / guardian show up IRATE and unannounced.
    • A parent can certainly come to school unscheduled and unannounced, but they need to know that unless it is a dire emergency (student safety or security related), they may be expected to wait and sometimes perhaps for a long time.
      • Teachers have classes to teach and extra duties to perform AND school administrators
      • Other parents and guardians have scheduled meetings (progress review, PPT, etc.) with teachers & administrators
  • If a parent is irate and shows up unannounced, school administrators and teachers may not know what the problem is so it is imperative for a school representative to try and find out the nature of the parent / guardians concern. This screening allows the school to be able to properly and accurately respond to the parent's concerns and issues 
    • The situation may even require a period of time for the school leadership to investigate or gather information about the irate parent's concerns. Accurately defining an issue, problem, or concern is critical to solving it vice responding to a perception of what might be going on.
  • Many teachers, guidance counselors, or school administrators are parents themselves so they are aware of the emotional concern for their own children and how intense those emotions can become in situations where a son or daughter's academic performance or school behavior is below their acceptable standards.
    • Acknowledging a parents frustration and the school's earnest desire to satisfy the parents concerns is critical to determine a "win /win" mutually beneficial end result.
    • Letting a parent know that if a mistake was made by the school that it will be rectified once the school leadership is aware of the specifics and can determine the best response.
  • On some occasions a parent or guardian may come with other family members or unknown persons. You need to clarify who is who and discreetly verify the person you are dealing with is in fact the parent  or guardian. Non parent / guardian members showing up at an impromptu meeting you are responding to requires discretion. 
  • If parents / guardians become irate where civility, safety, or security comes into question, then the school needs to have certain protocols to ensure professionalism and safety in the school environment.
  • School Protocols such as:
    • Raised Voices = a response of a tactful warning requesting the parent to please lower their voice or we will have to reschedule this meeting at a later date when all parties are calmer. If they do not comply you need to terminate the meeting and ask them to leave politely.
    • Profanity or Insulting Comments = a response for terminating this meeting until the discourse is more civil. Prompting a fellow school official to make the School Resource Officer (SRO) aware, visible, or join the meeting is always prudent. 
      • If you anticipate or interpret a developing negative situation and there is no SRO, calling the police to have an officer available is key to controlling a situation. 
    • Any Aggressive Action (invading someone's personal space, throwing paper, slamming a door, getting up aggressively from a chair causing it to fall, etc.) = a response for terminating the meeting and requesting the irate parent to leave the school premises, if they do not comply contact the police immediately.
    • Any Evidence of Unstable Behavior or Alcohol / Substance Abuse Use = contact SRO, if necessary the police. Notify them the meeting will be rescheduled and they will need to leave the school as there are other scheduled meetings you must attend. 
    • Violent Action or Threats = contact SRO, 911, and possibly consider putting the school into a lockdown if there is concern about violent acts continuing within the school. Ensure 911 knows the nature of the situation so they don't misinterpret a hostile parent with an active shooter situation.
  • Ensure everything said or done is documented (statements written) to include viewing security camera tapes.
  • School security and access control personnel should be made aware of any disgruntled persons  removed from school, so they are not allowed back into the building. 
Final Comment: The school leadership and all of the members of the school community are human beings as well, with personal feelings. It is imperative to always try to professionalize and stabilize every situation. The school should always seek to maintain the moral and professional high ground if a parent or guardian unfortunately loses control in what they say or how they act. Student and Staff Safety and Security are paramount.