Parents form group to address school violence

Concern about fighting and assaults in local schools has led to the creation of Wicomico Parents Representing Parents, mothers and fathers intent on making schools conducive to learning and places where misbehavior is not tolerated.

“I want my voice to be heard on a national level. Do not mess with my child. That’s my goal.

“We need to speak up for our children. We need to go into schools and find out. We need to better communicate with staff. We need to make some noise and we need to make some changes, some effective changes, and we need to do this immediately,” parent Dannelle Mann, said in a video she posted on Facebook on Feb. 19.

Mann co-founded Wicomico PRP.

Her sixth-grade daughter was assaulted at Salisbury Middle School. Another time, she was the target of an assault, but the perpetrator missed and punched a teacher in the face.

Mann said the girl was charged with assault.

Don Fitzgerald, President of the Wicomico County Board of Education, told the Salisbury Independent the school system’s Code of Conduct will be upheld but Mann said that code allows a student several infractions before in-school suspension is ordered, and many rowdy students prefer suspension to class.

“Some of us parents go to school to visit students and we hear students cursing in front of the teachers. The teachers say they can only send them to in-school suspension. This needs to be revisited,” Mann said.

“That kind of behavior won’t be tolerated. I am glad the parents are getting involved because that’s where it starts. It starts at home,” Fitzgerald said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donna Hanlin held a news conference last week and issued a statement saying the school system is “committed to having safe schools, and we believe that working as a team, with every student, parent, staff member and law enforcement member taking an active role, we can make that happen.”

Salisbury Middle School Principal Kristina Gosnell has called a community meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. at Salisbury Middle “to continue communication and dialogue to help solve the issues in school,” Hanlin said.

She reminded parents of the Web site and telephone numbers to report incidents included bullying and said additional Central Office and police officers have been stationed at the school.

“At times there are upwards of 12 deputies there. Usually there is one, one at Choices Academy and one at Salisbury Middle. He has called for assistance. She has called for assistance,” Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis told the Salisbury Independent this week.

“I was to reassure the parents that we are meeting with and closely working with the Board of Education to resolve the issues that are occurring at Salisbury Middle School and we will continue to have a strong presence there to ensure safety,” Lewis said.

Last week, in a news release, Hanlin said Gosnell acknowledged “an increased number of student fights over the past two weeks” and that she and staff “take the safety and security of our students very seriously.”

“These situations have been dealt with immediately and we continue to strive to improve the climate for all students. Many of our routines have been reviewed and adjusted to minimize disruptions.

“All students engaged in fighting have and will receive maximum penalties as this behavior will not be tolerated. We are prepared to continue to make adjustments as needed to ensure that our students are able to come to school and learn in a positive and productive environment.

“I can assure the community that we support Mrs. Gosnell in her efforts and fully support the discipline measures she is recommending for students engaged in fighting to send a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated and the Code of Conduct will be enforced,” Hanlin stated.

Mann, in the video posted on Facebook, said parents “have had enough.”

“Parent presence supersedes police presence in our schools. … Our children need to be parented, they don’t need to be policed,” she said.

After her daughter was assaulted, Mann attended a meeting with Hanlin during which she and other 76 parents asked about revising the Code of Conduct, a move Fitzgerald said could occur.

The first week of school, a boy in Mann’s daughter’s class balled up a piece of paper, threw it at her and used an epithet. The teacher told Mann’s daughter to ignore him.

“Some of the teachers feel their hands are tied. My daughter deserves to go to school where the atmosphere is safe,” Mann said.

Hanlin, in her statement, said these problems can’t be solved by the school system alone because students bring community issues to school.

“Parents and school administrators and staff must work together to find productive solutions, especially when issues originate in the community or on social media,” she stated.

The new Maryland Safe Schools hotline number, 833-MD-B-SAFE (1-833-632-7233), is active 24 hours every day to anonymously report safety concerns.

The home page of the Wicomico County Public Schools Website has a purple button for reporting bullying, harassment, cyberbullying or intimidation.

See wcboe.org/bullyreport.

Every report is investigated, Hanlin said.

“We want our students, families and staff to have good and productive experiences in our schools every day. We are committed to having safe schools, and we believe that working as a team, with every student, parent, staff member, and law enforcement member,” she stated.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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