Concern for Students; Student Concerns
The focus topic of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board meeting on Monday, April 8, was Safe2Say Something, a youth violence prevention program run by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. Safe2Say Something allows students and staff to anonymously report concerning incidents to an independent crisis center, which then works with the local school district to address the issue. WSSD Superintendent Dr. Lisa Palmer reported that among 25 tips Strath Haven had received since January, only two were hoaxes, indicating that to her satisfaction, “the students [are] taking the app seriously.” The authentic tips covered a wide range of issues, including five for drug use or distribution, one for sexual harassment, one for bullying, and two for suicidality. Superintendent Palmer reported that of the 25 tips, 19 had been investigated and closed.
Alex Melly, a junior at Strath Haven High School and leader in Diversity Trainers — a high school club whose mission is to mentor 6th, 7th, and 8th graders on issues related to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other kinds of discrimination — was not on the agenda for the School Board meeting. But when he delivered a plea for greater diversity education in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District’s K-12 curriculum, a handful of board members were visibly pleased.
Mr. Melly, who rose during the public comment period, was proud of his work with DT, but he said that “certain events” in the past year — a seeming reference to the notorious racist letters and photos that circulated in December 2018 — as well as subtler, daily manifestations of discrimination — had convinced him that “[DT was] not reaching everybody” and that the district needed to take a more proactive stance on diversity education.
In particular, he proposed complementing K-5 lessons on sentence structure and pronouns with a lesson on gender identity and its corresponding pronouns, as well as including more non-white and non-male authors in the English curriculum. Throughout his talk a few board members, like Wendy Voet, nodded approvingly, and afterward Chapin Cimino said for the record that she was “impressed with the student presenter.”
Community OK with Calendar, But Wants More Input
In the last minutes of the meeting, the board addressed several email concerns from district residents. Noting that the district had made some changes to the school calendar based on community comments, Dr. Marilyn Huff reported that community was more supportive of the amended calendar after learning the rationale behind it, but wanted the process to start earlier and be more public.
Dr. Robert Reiger requested an update from WSSD Business Administrator Martha Kew regarding the ongoing search for an athletic trainer for the middle school. She informed the board that Strath Haven Athletic Director Patrick Clancy was actively seeking quotes from several agencies, and that the administration anticipated having a middle school trainer in place for the fall of 2019.
Finally, with regard to the “ever-present concern about class sizes,” Dr. Palmer informed those present that she had been asked to look at the elementary class sizes but “had not completed the work on that yet,” adding that she thought it was important to look at class sizes at all levels throughout the district.