Open letter

After a suicide and a shooting, Denver’s superintendent urges community to ‘do everything possible to protect our children’

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Denver Public Schools has experienced a painful start to the school year.

First came the news that a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Shoemaker Elementary had taken his own life just four days into the school year. Jamel Myles’ mother says he was bullied at school and had recently come out to her as gay.

And then on Tuesday, a teenager was shot and critically injured right outside DSST: Cole Middle School on the district’s Mitchell Campus. The school went on lockdown, and worried parents flocked to the area, with some telling reporters they were frustrated neither the school nor the district shared information with them. In an email to parents and the broader district community, Superintendent Tom Boasberg described the victim as a teenage DPS student.

Boasberg said everyone who works in the district is reflecting on what they can do to better protect students.

“These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do – both small and large efforts, individually and as a community – to consistently support our most vulnerable children,” he wrote. “We must do everything possible to protect our children.”

He outlined the work Denver Public Schools has done to be more welcoming to LGBTQ students but also said too many students still experience “intolerance, meanness, and disrespect” from other children and from adults.

And he said everyone needs to know the warning signs of depression and suicide – and not be afraid to ask questions.

“If your child has warning signs of depression or suicide, don’t be afraid to ask if they have had thoughts about suicide,” he wrote. “Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk. Instead, it decreases the risk by providing an opportunity for help.”

Read the full letter below.

Supporting our students with love, dignity, and respect

It is with profound sadness that we learned this week of the death of Jamel Myles, a fourth grade student at Shoemaker Elementary School, and the shooting of a teenage DPS student (whose name has not yet been released) near our Mitchell Campus today. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and school communities of these children. These tragedies have caused deep sadness and reflection throughout our community.

These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do — both small and large efforts, individually and as a community — to consistently support our most vulnerable children. We must do everything possible to protect our children.

We all play a vital role in seeking to prevent our children from trying to take their own lives. DPS teaches the Signs of Suicide (SOS) curriculum, which focuses on supporting students to identify warning signs of depression or thoughts of suicide and make a report to a trusted adult for support. Our school social workers, psychologists and school nurses are trained in suicide prevention and supports.

Families are encouraged to teach your children to acknowledge if someone has a problem, be caring and tell an adult. Remind your child that there is help available if they or a friend ever feels sad or depressed. You can share with them the phone numbers for both Safe2Tell (877-542-7233) and the National Suicide Hotline (800-273-8255).

If your child has warning signs of depression or suicide, don’t be afraid to ask if they have had thoughts about suicide. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk. Instead, it decreases the risk by providing an opportunity for help. DPS has additional resources for families to help prevent student suicide available in this video.

In DPS, we are deeply committed to ensuring that all members of our school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender status. It is critical that our students receive all the supports they need to learn and thrive in a safe and welcoming environment. Our policies and practices reflect this commitment to ensuring that our LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer) students can pursue their education with dignity and joy — from training to prevent and stop bullying, to policies and guidance materials that fully respect gender identity (including use of preferred pronouns and restrooms).

However, we also know that, as a society, we still have a long way to go to ensure that no child is ever bullied or treated with disrespect because of their self-identification. This past spring, I spoke with a group of our LGBTQ+ youth, who told me story after story both of the love and support they had received in our schools, but also of intolerance, meanness and disrespect from fellow students and adults. All of us – parents, educators, and fellow students – need to lead the way in setting an example of love, respect and dignity for our LGBTQ+ youth.

We are fortunate in DPS to have strong LGBTQ+ educators, who serve as strong leaders and role models for our students. We are also fortunate to have partnerships to support our LGBTQ+ youth, including One Colorado at the state level and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) at the national network. Both organizations have excellent resources for families and students. Both organizations have excellent resources for families and students.

Thank you for your shared commitment to the health and safety of our youth. As our thoughts are with the teenager in critical condition tonight and we mourn Jamel’s passing, let us all come together to celebrate the light that our children bring into the world and ensure that all of their friends and peers throughout our community continue to shine their lights brightly.

Best,

Tom

 

snow fallout

From stalled buses to canceled programs, New York City schools are bearing brunt of snow storm

PHOTO: Guillermo Murcia / Getty Images
A school bus on Dekalb avenue in Fort Greene Brooklyn during a snow storm.

Parents, students, and teachers are dealing with the fallout of Thursday’s snowstorm, which stranded yellow buses for hours, created brutal commutes, and forced teachers to stay late for parent conferences.

Just before 9 a.m. Friday, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced all after-school programs would be cancelled, sending families scrambling to make arrangements. And perhaps anticipating yet another wave of yellow-bus related problems, all field trips involving buses were also cancelled.

Some parents and educators took to social media to vent about the city’s response.

Emergency responders were dispatched to free five children with special needs who had been trapped on a school bus for 10 hours, according to City Councilman Ben Kallos. Traveling from Manhattan to the Bronx, students didn’t make it home until “well after midnight,” Kallos said in a statement. The councilman has sponsored legislation to require GPS tracking on yellow buses after the school year began with horror stories about long, circuitous routes. Many riders are children with special needs who travel to programs outside their neighborhoods.

The education department did not immediately respond to questions about the timing of their decision to cancel after-school programs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would conduct a”full operational review of what happened,” referring to the city’s response to the storm. “We have to figure out how to make adjustments when we have only a few hours but this was—I hate to use this hackneyed phrase—but this was kind of a perfect storm: late information, right up on rush hour, and then a particularly fast, heavy kind of snow.”

The politics of snow-related closures are challenging, forcing city leaders to balance concerns about safety with the needs of working families, who may struggle to make arrangements for emergency childcare.

Snow-day related cancellations have bedeviled previous chancellors; in one famous incident, former Chancellor Carmen Fariña and de Blasio kept schools open despite a forecast of 10 inches of snow. The next day, Fariña proclaimed it was “a beautiful day.”

Still, the de Blasio administration is much more likely to cancel school in response to snow than his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

Christina Veiga contributed.

 

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.