An event last week at Plainfield High School that caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the community was discussed at Tuesday's Board of Ed meeting, leaving more questions than answers and highlighting how better communications by the District could have avoided the confusion and rumors that were spread.
At the privilege of the floor, Minister Mustafa Muhammad told the audience briefly of an outreach to high school students made last week in an effort to engage them in a discussion about gangs and street violence, making good choices and what could be done to help. He thanked the District's administrators for the opportunity to hold the program and said he was anxious to build a citywide effort including all sorts of organizations to help address the issues of gangs and violence plaguing our youth.
In responding, Acting Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles alluded obliquely to building principals' having considerable latitude in setting up assemblies for their buildings' students. But that was it.
Maria Pellum related concerns that had been shared with her, especially that she had been told boys and girls were separated for the event.
PHS principal Dr. Brian Bilal offered more clarity. Saying he didn't often take the floor in this manner, he added he felt it was important to clear up some misconceptions.
It was not in any way a 'religious' event, Bilal said, but was an attempt to meet and talk with 10th grade students about stopping the violence on Plainfield's streets. Attendance was voluntary (one girl chose not to attend, and was accommodated in another class instead). Board member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq and an unnamed City Council member were said to be in attendance.
All of this helped settle things down, as far as I was concerned.
However, there are still unanswered questions, and it strikes me that the District could do a better job at communications by giving some thought to programs like this in advance and at least preparing a fact sheet that could answer any questions the public may have instead of letting rumors circulate for days before addressing the matter.
Unanswered questions include: Was a written proposal for the program submitted? How was the decision arrived at to have the program? Were the students given advance notice? Did it take the place of any scheduled instruction that will have to be made up? How many students were involved? Where was it held? Did anything emerge from the session that will involve followup or creation of some task force, etc.?
Board member Renata Hernandez asked the District's attorneys if the law had been violated and the Board was reassured that it did not appear to be the case, based on what had been discussed.
Board member Abdul-Haqq praised the program as one of the best he had ever witnessed in his twenty years of involvement as a parent and advocate, saying he was unaware of the boy-girl separation question, and adding that while he was there the principal speaker was Jeff Dunn of The Incubator -- a Christian, as Abdul-Haqq pointed out.
The possibility exists that some of the confusion and rumors arose because STUDENTS themselves weren't clear about exactly what was going on, and why boys and girls were separated.
That last seems to have been the key, as I had received a couple of phone calls after school that same day from folks who could only have gotten bits and pieces about what happened from those who could only have gotten it from students. I suggested these folks call the District administration and not just assume that they had gotten the facts straight as they had heard them.
How much simpler if there had been a one-pager put up on the District's website. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
For an institution whose mission includes teaching young people to communicate clearly and effectively, you'd think the adults would want to model best communications practices for the students.
The report card on this one has to read 'Communication: Needs improvement'.