December 22, 2013

Brian Suits: Setting the record straight

Much has been made in the last few days and weeks about the incident involving a bus transporting Dalton Middle School students, its driver and two officers from the Dalton Police Department.

Sadly, when such an incident goes viral in the news media, much of the speculation surrounding the event becomes distorted, and more frequently than not, incorrect.

First, contrary to initial reports, the student behavior on the bus was addressed by members of the Dalton Middle School administrative team. Conferences were held, and parents were made aware of the consequences of their children’s poor choices. Unfortunately, much of the misbehavior arose in response to the actions of adults on the bus; nevertheless, any misbehavior is unacceptable and goes against what we teach our kids.

America is not a place of public execution. So, likewise, the particulars of a young student’s discipline rightfully and legally remains between that student, the school and his or her parents and not the harsh spotlight of national attention just because a certain story goes viral.

Second, riding a bus is a privilege for our students and not a right. Despite this recent incident, I stand behind our bus company, First Student, and our drivers as they do their best to make sure that each trip is as safe and uneventful as possible. If anyone in America doesn’t believe that driving a middle school bus is a huge and difficult responsibility, then I invite that person to ride along sometime.

I am also appreciative of the hard work done by the Dalton Police Department in their efforts to serve as partners in ensuring the safety and security of our students and staff.

Nevertheless, in spite of the coarsening of our society and shifting standards in appropriate language, it is always our job as adults to serve as role models of a high order for young people. To use the excuse, as some have suggested in recent days, that “kids today have heard (and perhaps even use) worse language” than the officers verbalized does not excuse any of us from exercising our basic responsibility of setting a better example.

I applaud the high standards to which our police chief holds his officers, and know that this was merely an exception to the normally professional job they do.

Finally, my team respectfully disagrees that this particular bus was “out of control.” No doubt the driver was tired and frustrated. No doubt the police officers were, as well. But we have seen one or two buses in our experience that we might characterize as being just that, and we have always dealt with those situations immediately and appropriately.

While we disagree with the assessment that this bus required police presence, it is still as much our job to teach students how to behave properly, including in response to adults, as it is to teach academic truth.

I have remained silent in the wake of these events, but I feel I can no longer stand by and watch our students be unfairly disparaged. Many cynics have pointed to this incident as an indicator that much is wrong with young people today. In my daily walk, I see the exact opposite.

Much is right with today’s kids.

We are so very proud of our students, and we invite anyone to come spend some time with us. Visit our classrooms, attend sporting events and performances, walk our halls and eat lunch with us. We believe you will be amazed and overwhelmed by what you find, particularly in a school as large and diverse as Dalton Middle School.

Unfortunately, this incident became a sound bite for the national news media and fodder for pundits and armchair experts. Most of the media got this wrong. I am reminded through this episode, too, not to accept at face value all that I read or hear. I do wish to applaud two sources, however, who did their best in a confusing, unfolding situation: our own local newspaper — Christopher Smith at The Daily Citizen — and columnist Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who pretty much got it right in spite of conflicting reports and opinions.

If you are interested, I encourage you to watch the entire video. It is approximately 40 minutes long (available at www.daltonnow.com). As it is with most events, a sound bite or two does not give a full or accurate rendering. Watching the complete episode is the only way to be fairly qualified to issue an opinion. We reached a difficult conclusion after watching it in its entirety. You may find yourself disagreeing with us.

We are all educators in society, whether we are officially employed in that capacity or not. Those of us who do work formally in our school ask for your support through the rest of this school year. Our jobs are complex. We do our best, and we don’t always get it right. Our team is fairly confident, though, that we did this time.

In the face of an increasingly cynical world, we need and request your consideration and not just your criticism.

Our students, the majority of whom are working so hard to make their way in this world, need and deserve no less.

Visit us. Check us out. We think you will agree.

Brian Suits is the principal of Dalton Middle School.

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