School board to review activity
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 6:00 PM
MARINETTE - It's been two weeks since the controversial "Cross the Line" activity was conducted at the Marinette Middle School. Since then, parents and administrators have voiced their concerns and explanations. The matter is far from settled and efforts are underway by the administration and school board to complete a thorough investigation.
During the last week of January, 570 students in grades 5 through 8 took part in an anti-bullying program called "Cross the Line." Part of the program had kids in each grade line up and respond to various statements. If a statement applied to them, they were asked to step forward, or cross the line. Problems quickly surfaced when some children went home in tears and stories of how they had to either take part or spend time on in-school suspension.
Many parents were also upset with some of the things their children were being asked, private things, things parents thought crossed the line for school officials to be asking - such as whether anyone had family members in jail or parental living arrangements and alcoholism to name a few.
"We're not sweeping this under the rug. This is going to be looked at," said board member Rick O'Farrell. "We're not on a head-hunting mission, we're trying to figure out what systems need to be corrected so we don't have this problem again."
Speaking for himself, O'Farrell agreed that some of the questions were not appropriate for students in 5th or 6th grade and that he was as surprised as the parents by the program, saying he didn't know anything about it until after the fact.
"I heard from parents that were a little upset," he said. "Part of it is, the communication wasn't there and that's what we want to work on, better communication."
Board President John LaCourt has been out of the country for the past week, but said he's talked with Superintendent Tim Baneck, but has not had a chance to talk with other board members since getting back late Monday. He said he expects the board will discuss the situation in closed session sometime soon but that he also expects to hear from parents, perhaps even at the next board meeting on Tuesday.
Board Member Terri Florek said she's heard from about a half dozen parents, none of whom had anything negative to say about "Cross the Line."
"I personally have not been approached by any parent with an adverse reaction, none," she said. "Everyone who has contacted me has had a positive reaction."
The program was run by middle school Associate Principal Cassandra Schultz. O'Farrell said it was his understanding that she saw the program at a different school and that it appeared to be a good tool to help combat bullying. However, when it came to selecting the questions or statements, there was a breakdown and they should have been looked at closer.
"I don't think there was any attempt to be malicious," he said. "If anything, they might have been over-eager to do a good program."
O'Farrell added that he felt the program was designed for much smaller groups. "I don't think there was any intention of hurting kids or misleading anybody. I think somebody just didn't realize the potential fallout of problem."
Middle School Principal Shawn Limberg said last week that he had met with 20 or more parents since the incident, and he, like other administrators and board members have listened to parents comments both positive and negative. Limberg has also taken responsibility for the lack of communication.
O'Farrell acknowledged privacy is a very sensitive issue and that he understands why parents are upset and that mistakes were made. He said the goal now is to make future activities productive and not have any more "fallout" caused by a lack of communication.
"Basically we're reviewing all of the systems of what happened because we don't want this to happen again," he said. "If we have something that could be potentially controversial we want to share it with the parents before we do it. We want the administrators and the board to know about it."
In a phone interview late Tuesday, Baneck said he and others in the district have done a lot of listening over the past couple weeks and are still processing and reviewing a lot of the information but they've also reached some conclusions.
"I can say with confidence that we are certainly treating this with the utmost respect and certainly are seriously considering all of the input we have received thus far," he said. "We still need to have some internal conversations as far as what are we going to do as we look ahead to the future."