A number of parents in the Alexander Central School District are unhappy with how some disciplinary issues are being handled and are speaking out at school board meetings, expressing frustration that district administration is, in their views, failing to meaningfully meet the requirements of safety and Code of Conduct policies.
The school board, and Superintendent Catherine Huber, for their part, are trying to limit what parents can tell them about their concerns and how Huber and her staff have responded to specific complaints.
Attempts to interview a board member or any board members after a meeting Monday night were rebuffed and a reporter was told only Huber could speak for the district or the board.
"Student safety and student well being is our top priority," Huber said that night. "Every parent who approaches the board or any administrator in the district, their concern is heard."
She would not comment further, she said.
Asked if based on parental feedback there was any need to make policy changes, all she said was, "I can tell you our Code of Conduct is updated on an annual basis."
Board President Reed Pettys was not present at the meeting. Reached the next day by email, Pettys issued a statement (copied in full at the bottom of this story) and said he could not and would not comment on specifics.
At a March 28 meeting, a mother of an elementary school student, Liz Felski, spoke during the public comment period and told the board a child in her daughter's class was continuously disruptive.
After mentioning she is an Alexander alumna, she said, "So you cannot imagine how disappointed I was when my daughter came home and said she was terrified to go to her class. She has encountered many violent disruptions in class, including hitting and kicking..."
At that point, Pettys cut her off and said she couldn't talk about specifics in a classroom.
Felski, herself an educator with a docorate in education (Ed.D.), then cited the Code of Conduct's language on providing a safe and orderly school environment.
She said she doesn't believe the Code of Conduct is being followed.
"My daughter has told me her class is disrupted five or six times to redirect and get them focused," Felski said.
Felski's remarks were captured on an iPhone recording of the meeting provided to The Batavian by another parent.
"After I conveyed my concerns to Dr. Huber, she said all she (Felski's daughter) was entitled to was an education and this would be in a classroom."
Pettys interrupted her remarks again and said Felski could not mention specific individuals.
After some cross talk, Pettys said, "This is public comment and I understand there are emotions behind your thoughts. Talking about our policies is appropriate. We can’t speak to specifics in the classroom."
Felski responded, "I'm talking about my daughter's comments to me. I’m not talking about a specific student. I’m talking about what my daughter is witnessing in a classroom on a day-to-day basis."
Pettys told her specific issues should be taken up with the administration. A parent in the audience said, "they were repeatedly ignored."
Pettys said, "We are a policy-making board."
The audience member said, "We know your policies and we don't believe you're following them."
Felski tried to continue her statement and was admonished by Pettys again not to discuss classroom specifics.
"That is something to be addressed with the superintendent or the administration," Pettys said.
A parent in the audience said, "If they don't respond?"
Pettys said, "This isn’t a discussion. We’re just here to listen. This back and forth is not what it is intended for."
At which point he called another parent to the podium, who also raised concerns about student safety and the Code of Conduct. Then another parent spoke.
"Many parents are worried on a daily basis about some things that are occurring," said the mother whose name wasn't clear on the recording. "Hopefully, we can all work together to improve on the policies so they make sense for everybody."
After her, another mother spoke who said her child was also in the elementary school and she was very worried about the safety of her child.
Before Felski spoke, another mother addressed the board and laid out at least a half dozen proposed policy changes.
None of these suggested changes were captured in the board minutes, so as to give the board a better chance to consider them and discuss them at a later date.
At Monday's meeting, among the speakers was Jerome Morrison, father of Liz Felski, who said he was speaking on his daughter's behalf after she left the previous meeting in tears because she was repeatedly interrupted at the March 28 meeting and wasn't allowed to finish her statement.
"She is as well qualified as anybody in this room and she was treated like she doesn’t belong," Morrison said.
He said he didn't think the district was being responsive to the concerns of parents.
"When you refuse to grant meetings to concerned parents, or do not respond to emails, and threaten teachers and staff members about speaking out ,and cut people off who are trying to voice serious concerns, you leave parents with no options but to be heard," Morrison said.
As for his granddaughter, he is much less concerned about her safety in school.
"There’s good news on my granddaughter’s account," he said. "She now goes to school safely and without fear. Unfortunately, she had to change schools to do it."
Outside the board meeting, Morrison told The Batavian, the child who is reportedly disruptive once raised a desk over his head threatening his granddaughter. He said the child wasn't disciplined.
Another parent said the same child brought a knife to school a few days later and received a three-day suspension.
Three other parents spoke Monday, including two who said they were frustrated because their children had been given lengthy suspensions for minor violations while the elementary school student who is said to be so disruptive never receives serious punishment.
One of the parents, Casey Scott, said her teenage son is part of the program for students with disabilities and he used to struggle in school. This year, he had been doing great academically until he was suspended for the rest of the school year and now he's failing two classes. She said one of her complaints is that he's been out of school for nearly two weeks and she has been unable to get his assigned homework so he can keep studying. She got some assignments from his BOCES instructor, but not from Alexander HS.
"I was also told if I pursued the issue any further it would backfire on us," Scott said.
Another parent shared similar concerns about homework for her suspended child.
Outside the meeting, Scott said her son was suspended because, on a bus trip to the BOCES campus, her son and another boy grabbed and bear-hugged another student. She said she thought it was playful, the school took it as bullying. She said he had no other disciplinary issues.
Below is the email The Batavian received from Reed Pettys (Note, in our initial set of questions to him, we asked a general question about whether he prevented a parent from speaking at the "previous" meeting. It turned out, that was actually a meeting before the last meeting. We say that to explain his final sentence.)
Thank you for attending our Board meeting last evening.
The District takes matters of student safety, discipline, and learning very seriously.
The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority.
We cannot and will not comment about issues specific to any student or staff.
Our Code of Conduct is updated on an annual basis. I can assure you that in all cases, the Code of Conduct is and has been applied fairly and consistently.
The administrators and Board of Education listen and take action as appropriate to all concerns brought to us by students, parents, and community members.
Please know that no members of the public spoke at our last meeting on 4/11/18.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: At 11:24 p.m. The Batavian received an email from an attorney for the school district demanding that The Batavian retract this story. While alleging many faults with the story, the attorney did not assert that it was in any way libelous or defamatory. We are not going to retract this story. We stand by our reporting. We affirm the story is factually accurate and does not suffer from the deficiencies she claims; though, in fairness, we should acknowledge one point she made. The school board, as with all public bodies in New York, is under no obligation to provide for public comments on its agenda. Further, it is not legally obligated -- though it might be wise -- to keep minutes on public comment.