It seems a school call to “protest” can spread as quickly as an 8-second TikTok video.
A rumor starts. The narrative and stories bounce from cell phone to cell phone among students. And the next thing parents know, texts bellowing of protests, fights, fear and outrage are disrupting their work day to the point that they start hitting up fellow parents and building personnel for more information.
All the while, local television sources get wind of these dust-ups and are on the scene before some even spot it on social media.
“Do you know of anything going on at PLMS?”
“I hear Pleasant Lea is on lock down, is that true?”
“Why is Channel 41 in the middle school parking lot?”
It’s a vicious cycle that the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, along with the cooperation of parents and staff, need to put an end to.
The latest example of the outrage-to-protest-to-news-coverage scenario happened last Friday at PLMS when students seem to have gotten word about varying disciplinary actions being administered to two students who used a racial slur at the school.
As the stories unfolded, parents and community members were told that, perhaps, one student received a harsher punishment than the other for using the same racist word at the school. We all know the word. And if you are, as a parent, outraged it is somehow still permeating our buildings in the year 2022, you’re not alone.
So as the drama unfolds at the middle school, wrath and resentment build and build and build among the students as messages and texts are sent and the story cascades out of control until someone says, “let’s walk out.”
And they do.
You hope our youth feel heard and seen and listened to when they take these actions. Some worry about the consequences or are so stricken with a sense of wrongdoing that they are joining, or even leading, the crow they don't join in.
All the while, for Principal Brian Linquist and his staff, the story spins out of control faster than the barrage of texts sent by teenagers who are, likely, on their phones far more than they need to be during class.
The fallout of what happened last week was minor, as far as LSR7 news goes. We will never know if the two students were disciplined in an equitable manner because the district won’t tell us. Time after time, this district ducks and covers behind some wall of privacy to deliver the constant message: “We are doing what is written as policy and best for students. And while we cannot tell you anything about that, you must trust us in these decisions.”
It’s a trust that has been whittled away over the course of many years. The district will have to forgive many of us parents when we ask, “Are you sure about that?”
I don’t need to know the names, ages, backgrounds or any identifying factors of the two students involved at Pleasant Lea Middle School. None of us do. The students likely know, though. And the students also assign facts to stories they are told in the classrooms and hallways that, in this case, the discipline wasn’t meted out evenly. True or not, that becomes the story. And time and again, this district doesn’t act swiftly and firmly to get in front of the narrative.
Linquist (like his counterpart, Dr. Kari Harrison at Lee’s Summit High) doesn’t respond to questions via e-mail, instead leaving it to the district communications office to do so. And by way of such lax measures as the crisis seemingly unfolds in front of them inside the building, the stories flow, unchecked and unresolved, among the students, to the parents and, eventually, the media.
For the record, Katy Bergen in the district communications office did respond, as she always does, with this comment, about the PLMS issue:
“About 50 students were involved in the student situation on Friday. As you know, I can't go into details about disciplinary actions, but all disciplinary actions the district took last week were in accordance with Board policy and our Student Handbooks.”
The district likes to follow checklists and has a hard time deviating from those sometimes bureaucratic norms. If that’s the ongoing case, I would suggest adding the following to that checklist:
- Get a handle on the usage of non-school-issued devices during school hours.
- Quit telling our youth you are handling all issues "by the book" and show them.
- Start talking to our middle (and high) school students like adults when these issues arise. (“It’s been a great week!” announcements at the end of the day do not cut it).
If LSR7 is content with constantly chasing the narrative instead of being ahead of it, these three suggestions are the best way to assure our students, and our parents, that you understand the constant barrage of “walkouts” and “protests” are ultimately bad for our district.
Keep this up, and the “mom, something is going on at our school” texts are going to be ignored at exactly the wrong moment in time.