Speaking Up in DeKalb
Even though I have not personally witnessed official action being taken against DeKalb County School employees, I have heard stories — from district personnel and community members — of teachers who have spoken out and who have (supposedly) had action taken against them for doing so. I really don’t want to be one of them, but I feel like I must be vocal about the things which take place in our school and the system as a whole.
In a school like Cross Keys, many of the parents don’t speak up about problems or concerns because of the following reasons (told to me by students and their families):
- The ever-present language barriers
- Not knowing their rights
- Being undocumented and feeling afraid
- Feeling out of place
- Being busy taking care of multiple children and working multiple jobs
I think, especially, as someone who lives in the Cross Keys cluster, and as someone who is friends with families that send their children to CK cluster schools, I must speak up so that it hopefully encourages parents and community members to feel empowered to do the same.
A Mother Empowered to Speak Out Against Student Bullying
One of my friend’s daughters who has special needs was being bullied on the bus on the way to school. (We will call her “Sara” to protect her privacy.) Sara would come home every day crying because of her experiences on the bus. The bus driver was not doing anything to stop the bullying, and Sara’s mom was frustrated because she didn’t know what to do.
Sara’s older sister (we’ll call her “Andrea”), whom I mentor, came to me about the bullying issue. She angrily explained how her mother didn’t know what to do and how she couldn’t continue to see her sister cry every day after coming home from Sequoyah Middle School (the middle school in the CK cluster). I told this Cross Keys student to check out DeKalb County Schools’ policy on bullying, explaining that the district did not take bullying lightly.
Andrea showed her mom the information that night and explained to her that the bus driver could face consequences if he or she did not address the bullying issue appropriately.
The next day, Andrea and Sara’s mom went to Sequoyah MS and demanded to speak to the principal. After the principal listened to how Sara was being bullied, she immediately arranged for Sara to be put on a different bus. I am not sure if anything else happened with the former bus driver, but Sara was finally free from the bullying.
Andrea told me that the information that I had sent her was what motivated her mom to speak up. She said it helped her understand her rights, which clearly emboldened her.
This is what I’m trying to do on this blog: I’m trying to put the information into the community so that the community knows what is happening in their school. I want community members – my friends and my students’ families – to feel empowered by the information presented so that they become advocates for themselves and their schools.
Fear Amongst Teachers
I can tell you that no less than ten teachers and other individuals at Cross Keys have come to me and said that they support the efforts I am making to advocate for the CK cluster and its students.
However, they said, because they need to think about their children and their jobs, they cannot openly and vocally support me.
One woman told me that she is a single mom supporting her daughter and that she can’t afford to get fired for speaking up about her concerns. Another man told me he has several children and a wife and wouldn’t be able to openly support me because he couldn’t afford to risk his career. Yet another man told me the same story: he’s the breadwinner in his family, and if he shows open support for the issues I’m raising, he is afraid he will face consequences that he might not be able to afford.
This is tragic. Teachers at my school tell me that what I’m doing is good but that they can’t openly stand with me because they are afraid retaliatory action will be taken against them. They encourage me to keep speaking up, while at the same time warning me that to do so is to risk my job and my career.
To me, that is all the more reason to speak out. I completely understand where they are coming from, and I don’t mind that they make the decision to stay quiet in order to think of their family and children.
And they’re not entirely mistaken to feel intimidated about speaking up. I’ve experienced plenty of criticism since I’ve begun teaching at Cross Keys, including being told that I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I want to advance my career in DeKalb.
But I don’t think things will improve unless we have an open dialogue about our education issues, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I realize it’s risky, but I know in many other schools, the parents would be the ones advocating and leading.
Spanish Blog Coming January 2016
I know our CK cluster parents care just as much as any other cluster’s parents; yet I don’t think they feel as comfortable navigating the system as other parents do. So that’s why I continue to host this discussion, even if it doesn’t “advance my career.”
Therefore, I am excited to announce that I will be launching my blog en espanol beginning January 2016. Not that this will solve the issue, but it will give Spanish-speaking parents more information about what is happening within the school system so that they can advocate for themselves.
At some point, I hope to launch my blog in other languages since there is no education blog (that I know of) that discusses issues in multiple languages, and I think that every parent deserves to know what is happening within their school – even if they aren’t fluent English-speakers.
If you are interested in joining this effort, please let me know. I’m trying to assemble a team of Spanish-speakers who will be able to translate 1-2 posts a month.