At the most recent We Stand Together/Estamos Todos Juntos meeting this past Sunday, Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea was confronted, apparently for the first time, with the news that children in our schools are being spit upon and otherwise bullied, and accosted with taunts and threats that they will be sent out of the country.
Mr. D’Andrea’s response was that the safety of every child is the first concern of schoolteachers and administrators, and that policies are in place to ensure that every child is kept safe.
I respectfully suggest that policies do not make children safe, people do. Manifestly, these policies have not been put into actual effect. They are only words on paper and computer screens. Until they are effectively implemented, they will continue to be ineffectual gestures, hand-waving with no real meaning.
What would it take to put these good policies into effective action?
At minimum, the superintendent’s office must be informed of every such act inflicted by some children on other children. You cannot manage what you are blind to. This means there must be immediate, trusted means for each child to report to the teacher and to the principal of the school, and these events must be tallied and reported up the chain to the superintendent’s office.
Most fundamentally, recognize that this is not a matter of individual children behaving badly. It will not be resolved on a case-by-case basis. This is a challenge to the social norms by which we live here on this small Island. We all know that this challenge comes to us by the influence of media and social media on parents and families. That is not our character as a community. We do not jeer at differences. Jabberwocky attests to that.
All children are entitled not only to safety but to respect. The superintendent’s office should issue a policy of zero tolerance for disrespect. This policy should be backed up by at least one schoolwide assembly, and by the principal and guidance counselor engaging not only the children who do these things but also bringing in the parents together with them.
Our community may be unique (I hope not), but it certainly is not endangered. I trust that I speak for many when I say that we will stand up for mutual respect and humane social values that are essential for us living together.
Bruce Nevin is a writer and researcher who works as a linguist helping the Pit River (Achumawi) people of northeast California recover their language. His organizational commitments here include the Martha’s Vineyard Peace Council, Martha’s Vineyard Friends Meeting (Quakers), and Oriental Martha’s Vineyard Lodge (Freemasons). He lives with his family in Edgartown.