Crossing the Line?
Parents question program at Marinette Middle School
Friday, January 31, 2014 6:00 PM
MARINETTE - An anti-bullying activity called "Cross the Line" has prompted some parents of Marinette Middle School students to ask whether the school has crossed the line.
Students leave Marinette Middle School at the end of the school day Friday. Administrators met with some parents Friday to discuss complaints they had received about an activity the school had students participate in during the week called “Cross The Line.”
"You might have started an activity to prevent bullying, but what you actually did is you gave children ammunition to bully other kids," said Amy Smith Primley during a meeting with school officials Friday. Primley and a small handful of other parents met with Superintendent Tim Baneck, Middle School Principal Shawn Limberg and Associate Principal Cassandra Schultz for nearly three hours.
The exercise took place in the school library on Wednesday and Thursday and involved all 570 students, two groups each day. Students formed lines across from one another and then a statement was read by Schultz. If the statement applied to a student, they would "cross the line" by stepping forward. If students did not wish to reveal they fit the context of the statement, they did not have to cross the line. After several seconds, Schultz would ask the students to return.
The statements themselves are a bit of a mystery depending on who is asked. According to a handout provided by the district, samples used in the activity included:
n You have been called things that have made you feel anger, hurt, sad.
n You have mean comments to someone else.
n You have witnessed name calling, but have stood by and did not intervene.
n You have experienced the effects of alcoholism in your family.
Parents tell a different story. Christina Smith has a son in the seventh grade. She said her son came home with a different set of statements and questions.
n Do you cut yourself?
n Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?
n If you were adopted, cross the line.
"I am outraged. I was upset to hear that not just my child, but any child, was subjected to that situation itself," said Smith. "If you are already being bullied, it's going to create the bullies to bully you more. I just don't feel those questions are appropriate for pre-teen and teenage children."
What's more, Smith said the students weren't given much of an option about taking part in the program.
"They were told that if they did not participate they would have to serve an in-school suspension," she said.
"That was not true," said Baneck, when asked about the accusation. "There were options, so the kids did not have to participate in it. Even if they chose to participate, they still would not have to acknowledge any of the statements or answers to the questions. There was protection on multiple fronts from that. It was very much an option for the students."
One parent, who has an adopted son, said he would have been devastated to have to respond to the adoption inquiry. As it was, his younger sister did respond when asked if anyone in the family was adopted. The parent said her daughter came home crying because other kids in her class didn't know about it.
When the EagleHerald asked for a copy of the questions, neither Baneck nor Limberg said they had them. Schultz did not return a call to her office. Limberg did, however, explain that the statements were put together by Schultz from a variety of sources.
"This is an activity that has been replicated nationwide in schools and in other places. It was not an original idea. It was something she had actually been involved with, not as a facilitator, but as a witness at a previous school district," he said.
Limberg said the statements were tweaked for different grade levels and did not focus on individuals.
"I guess the best example of that would be instead of saying, 'Cross the line if you have been affected by a parent who is an alcoholic,' it wasn't asked in that manner. It was asked in a more broad range. 'Have you been affected by alcohol abuse in your family? - something more broad," he said.
Baneck said the program has been conducted in other places around the country at different levels and that it's considered to be part of the school's anti-bullying program. He said there were positive aspects to the exercise as well.
"There were some kids that came out of this thing, 'wow, I didn't know that so-and-so is also dealing with some of this stuff,'" said Baneck. "That opens the path of communication up and they become more affiliated with the way that they feel as part of the bigger group rather than, 'I'm the only one that's dealing with some of these challenges in life.'"
Smith and Primley both made trips to school to talk with those in charge. Smith said she first went to the middle school but was informed Schultz was unavailable. By 8:30 a.m., she was in the superintendent's office looking for an explanation.
Baneck told her he would investigate her concerns. Meanwhile, Primley already had a meeting set up with Baneck. She, some other parents and a grandparent met with Baneck, Limberg and Schultz. They were shown a Power-Point presentation about how the "Cross the Line" activity was run. She said she understood about the bullying aspect, but added that Schultz was the one exerting the pressure.
"I told them that I feel that she (Schultz) bullied all of the students at the school. Because when sixth-graders were told they could leave if they wanted, and over half of the sixth-grade class left, they made them come back and then said you could leave, but you'll have in-school suspension."
Primley said Schultz told her that never happened.
"She said a lot of things, that I have heard from multiple children, never happened," said Primley. "And I said to her, 'I don't believe you, because I don't think all these children had time to make this up.' The principal (Limberg) said to me, 'you're going to believe a bunch of children over the vice principal? You're going to call her a liar?'
"I said, 'yes I am. I believe she is lying.'"
Both Smith and Primley said they would like to have known about the program ahead of time. Baneck agreed, saying, "We certainly respect that and we'll be taking that into serious consideration for change in the future."
Primley and Smith say "Cross the Line" did just that when it comes to privacy. During her meeting, Primley said she admonished Schultz.
"When you told them that what happens in the library, stays in the library, that was wrong - because children should not keep things from their parents, especially to this extent."
She said the administrators back-peddled and said that the information should not go beyond the students in the library.
"These are children. Children are going to talk. If you see a child step over the line because their parents were in prison, they're going to ask questions. They're going to talk about it with other kids. They're not going to just be quiet. They had to know that going in."
Primley said she was told by Schultz that she received e-mails from students saying what a wonderful activity it was and how they're now able to open up and talk to other people. Primley also admitted she received several Facebook posts from parents saying they did not think the activity was that bad.
Baneck called the meeting "positive," but knows not everyone is 100 percent happy with what happened.
"But we were glad to listen to the concerns and that's what we did," he said. "We listened and we're going to be examining what did happen and take their concerns into consideration as we move forward."
As the meeting was ending, Primley said she was asked what would make the situation better.
"I don't see any positive about it. I don't see it as a gray area. I see it as completely and utterly wrong," she said "I think, had they sent a permission slip home and showed us a list of questions they would have actually asked, I don't think a lot of parents would have signed it."
Both Primley and Smith said they want to see action taken against Schultz for her role in the matter.
"Personally, I believe the vice principal should be reprimanded for this type of behavior and I don't believe she should be working with the children of our school at all," said Smith.
"I believe she needs to lose her job. I did not think she should be in that school," Primley said. "I told them she should be fired, I told them that more than once."
Baneck said it's important for children to learn that bullying is wrong and that schools play an important role in teaching that lesson.
"The easy thing for us would have been, let's not deal at all with this, let's not try anything new," said Baneck. "Then who is going to start addressing it? It is a fine line, I understand."
Baneck said he welcomed the input from the parents and that whenever someone has an issue or conflict such as this, they should go to the source to make sure they get things straight.