(Note: These initial remarks were delivered to the Albemarle County School Board on March 10, 2016)
My name is Jim Stern and on behalf of the entire community I would like to thank a dozen ACPS students that have gone unrecognized for their noteworthy and possibly heroic actions.
About three weeks ago a number of our students were privileged enough to represent our school system at this year’s Model UN in Washington DC.
The actions of several of these students at the Model UN have been personally recounted to me and I feel these students must be recognized.
It seems that a young lady from one of our high schools, who had consumed an amount of alcohol that was simply too much for her system, was alternating between moments of being awake and violently vomiting and moments where she was so passed out that the other students, who were also using drugs and alcohol, could not communicate with her.
We could be talking tonight about the injury or a sexual assault on this young lady or even worse, death.
Yes, death has to be considered a possibility when there is a mixture of this much drugs and alcohol at a school function.
The students with this young lady realized this.
I do not mean to imply that death was imminent, or even likely, but it was a possibility.
And this was clearly perceived, and the danger recognized, by a large number of students who were concerned for the well-being of this girl.
Knowing she needed medical attention but also knowing they would get in trouble, these students did the right thing and went immediately to the teacher chaperones of this school trip.
They did this knowing that the outcome for telling their teachers would mean a night spent with the police because no one under 18 can possess drugs or alcohol in Maryland, DC, or Virginia.
In that moment these students could have thought about just themselves, they could have tried to dispose of evidence, they could have ignored the signs their friend was in danger and just convinced themselves she would “sleep it off.”
But they did what we all hope that they would do, they went and sought assistance from where the young lady in need would best be served, the adult ACPS teachers.
Students these days are going to have occasional access to drugs and alcohol. We as adults work together to make it difficult, yet it cannot be avoided.
But In this case, the students knew they would face legal and other consequences because, in fact, when the student’s belongings were searched by the teachers they found a large amount of intoxicants.
Yes, these students brought this serious danger upon themselves but despite that fact, they still had the guts to stand up and face the music when the situation spun out of control.
I ask the School Board to take the time to reiterate to all of our students that if they break the law at a school event it will not be tolerated and there will be legal and school disciplinary action taken.
But I also hope that the School Board’s message can be tempered with some praise for the teachers who reacted quickly, and for the students who may have saved this young lady’s life.
The student’s names must remain unspoken, but their story should still be told.
If not for them, we could be mourning the death of an ACPS student gone too soon. Thank you.
Further thoughts and questions for the Albemarle County School Board:
The School Board has always said they like to take the helicopter view of what is going on in Albemarle County Public Schools. Listening to the School Board discussions after I spoke last Thursday, and doing a large amount of personal follow up, it appears the helicopter is flying blind.
I expected that the School Board was made aware of all things illegal that occurred involving our students. But that is not the case, so either negligence or deceit is occurring at the Albemarle County Office Building.
The blank stares from the School Board were replaced with dropped jaws when the Assistant Superintendent began to recount in detail his understanding of what happened at the Model UN. Our School Board was completely unaware that students had endangered themselves and others. Yet the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent clearly were fully aware of what happened.
I can understand that School Board wishes to avoid being accused of micromanaging every incident when a student breaks the law. But there is no existing reporting given to the School Board at all, even on a periodic basis, specifically documenting when students break the law at school or at a school-sponsored event.
I cannot even get confirmation that this young lady received any medical evaluation or that the Baltimore Police Department made the decision to allow Albemarle County Public Schools to handle this internally as Dr. Haas, the Assistant Superintendent, stated.
A call to the Baltimore Police and the Baltimore County District Attorney’s Office turned up no records of any events involving our students during the Model UN. Maryland law does require that law enforcement be called when a minor at a school event is found to have drugs or alcohol in their possession. However, they cannot confirm what happened to the drugs and alcohol or that they authorized the student transgressions to be handled by the ACPS School Resource Officer, because they don’t believe their law enforcement division was even informed.
So I ask the School Board to get out of the helicopter and confirm that this young lady received proper medical evaluation, and confirm where, when and how the drugs and alcohol were disposed of, and to confirm it was in accordance with law enforcement’s direction.
It appears all of the students were given ten-day suspensions. As stated in my three minute presentation to the School Board, some of our students were heroes, but now it seems some students clearly were not. They posted sarcastic and rude pictures on social media of themselves at home on the first day of their suspension with #TenDays, smiling and mocking the schools. Some students clearly did not care and were even proud of their suspensions.
Now I find out that these ten day suspensions were altered. Three days later all of the students, were back in school. What disturbs me about that is the Monticello High School Students with the insulting social media postings are telling other students that their parents put pressure on Dr. Turner, the principal, to allow them back early or they would try to block his promotion to Assistant Superintendent.
The overwhelming evidence is that the School Board cannot cling to their ‘helicopter view’ and continue to use it as plausible deniability should something horrible, like a death, occur.
They don’t need to micromanage but the do need to manage. There needs to be some leadership and a demand from the School Board that ACPS Administration must report to the School Board, in some format and in a timely manner, whenever a student has broken the law.
If the School Board wants to continue to fly the helicopter they can, but the ACPS Administration must give them reports on what is going on the ground down below that are complete and fully accurate.
The School Board must understand that only with full accountability can our children be safe and reporting of illegal behavior allows the School Board to evaluate and promote administrators on what is really happening with students rather than based on how well Administration can cover up the truth.