School District Sends Letter to Parents, Concerned About Impact of Press Accounts of Murder Proceedings

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DJUSD

On Tuesday afternoon, the Davis Joint Unified School District sent the following letter to parents via email:

“This weekend the Davis Enterprise published a detailed and potentially traumatizing recount of a public pretrial proceeding.  Other media sources, including television, newspaper and social media have also made similar reports,” the letter from Jen McNeil, DJUSD Prevention & Crisis Manager, said.

The letter continued, “As a matter of policy and law, DJUSD will not make comments to the media regarding confidential student situations.  However, we want to inform our parent community that we have taken steps to support our staff and students as it relates to this matter.

“Our response includes: helping staff cope with their own emotional reactions, providing direction and guidance about how to respond to student reactions to traumatic information, helping teachers manage classroom discussions, and finally, how to look out for students who may be vulnerable to self-injury or harm as a response to receiving traumatic information.”

“We have reminded staff that each human being in our schools has a right to privacy and that although we do not discuss confidential student matters with the public we may acknowledge the media coverage and what emotional responses might occur,” Ms. McNeil wrote.

She added, “Further, we are providing individual support as needed and appropriate.  At school sites where we have deemed it is developmentally fitting, we will remind students about how to access counseling services to cope with strong emotional responses, to respect privacy as much as possible and to be sensitive, and to not contribute to rumors or speculation.”

The letter provided the following information: “As a parent/guardian you may be struggling with how to support your child(ren).  On our DJUSD website, under the Family, Prevention & Crisis link you will see tips for teachers and parents on how to talk with children and teens about traumatic information, listed as “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers.”  It is available in both English and Spanish.  www.djusd.net/crisis

It concluded, “If you have concerns for your child(ren) please share these concerns with the school counselor, psychologist or administration.”

In June, following the arrest of Daniel Marsh, a letter was sent to all DJUSD families from Superintendent Winfred Roberson, stating, “As you are probably already aware, a Davis teenager was arrested on suspicion of a double homicide that occurred last April.  To some degree, such news affects everyone in our community–students, families and staff members alike.”

Mr. Roberson continued, “We want you to know that the District has implemented a plan to address the media, to support our staff members and others who are most intimately close to the situation, and to reach out to parents with this information we hope will help support your child.”

“It is natural in situations like this to ask questions and look for answers that may never be forthcoming,” the Superintendent wrote.  “Rumors or speculation about what may have occurred, or why all of this has happened, usually creates more anxiety for our children.  It is important to listen to your child’s concerns, to remind them that they are safe and to encourage them to take a humane approach.”

Of particular note, the letter went on to suggest, “Coverage of these events in the local, national and social media platforms are escalating, which further exacerbates anxiety.  We encourage you to talk to your child about the effect of visiting and/or contributing to social media sites focused on highly emotional and potentially hurtful content.”

“Much of what we have seen is mean-spirited, inaccurate and inflammatory,” he wrote. “This is a good time to help your child distinguish the difference between information and gossip.  Instead, please help your child focus on if and how this event has affected him or her.  In this way, you will know best how to help.”

After advising parents where they can call if they have concerns about their children’s state of mind, the Superintendent closed with, “We are part of a strong community that can come together in time of crisis to take good care of those in need and each other.  Fortunately, summer is a great time to slow down, unplug, build our family ties and strengthen our relationships.  We wish the best for all our students and families and hope these next months can be happy healthy ones.”

The letter to Holmes Junior High parents includes the first part, but also adds “Protocol for Mediating Social Interactions sent out by Derek Brothers, the Principal of Holmes.”

He writes: “In general, the following guidelines will provide safety and direction to our students.  In egregious cases, formal discipline may also be required as governed by the District Behavior Standards, student age and developmental stage.”

1)-When the behavior is reported, reach out first to the targeted student.  For elementary students, contact parents and have a conference to determine what has happened from the student’s point of view, giving parents an opportunity to assist, mediate, or simply be informed of the situation.  Listen and take notes.

2)-Encourage the student and family to immediately report any unacceptable behavior directly to the teacher or principal to maximize timely response and accurate reporting.  Staff can arrange for that to be done in a way that does not unduly expose a targeted student.

3)-Speak to all of the other students directly involved.  Generally, this should be done on an individual basis, although you may wish to speak with young children in a group.   Gather information.

4)-Document the incidents in the student information system, including the level of response: conversation, parent notification, counselor referral, detainment, suspension, police advisement, etc.

5)-Warn all parties against retaliation of all kinds, and confirm willingness to comply with directives.

6)-Address bystander /coaching behavior with counseling, directives or discipline as needed.

7)-Regardless of the level of response, seek some method to restore the equilibrium to the student and/or student group.  This may involve restorative justice processes, contracts, agreements, etc.  Ideally, all parties would come together, but that may not be possible where physical safety and/or bodily harm are issues.  In any case, at a minimum there must be a support mechanism for the targeted student, if not for all students, during this process.  (Examples include: passes from class, regular check-ins with student and/or parent, teacher awareness, campus supervisor support, etc.)

8)-If, at any stage of this process, you need consultation, advice and/or an alternate person to facilitate this process, call upon a colleague and/or call Student Services.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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7 thoughts on “School District Sends Letter to Parents, Concerned About Impact of Press Accounts of Murder Proceedings”

  1. SouthofDavis

    David quoted the school district that said:

    > This weekend the Davis Enterprise published a
    > detailed and potentially traumatizing recount
    > of a public pretrial proceeding.

    It is interesting how so many on the left seem to worry so much about “traumatizing” anyone (and freak out when kids see or hear about anything “violent”).

    The response is similar to so many on the right who worry about “offending” anyone (and freak out when kids see anything “sexual” and just go crazy if their kids see anything “same sexual”).

    I’m happy to say that I have never been “traumatized” by anything (even the stuff I read about the Vietnam war as a kid) or “offended” by anything (and I’ve been to the Folsom Street fair).

    I wish the Davis schools would focus on teaching kids and not spend so much time trying to “help” parents protect their kids from things that “they” find “traumatizing”.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    “It is interesting how so many on the left seem to worry so much about “traumatizing” anyone”

    Why are you equating the district’s response as motivated by politics?

  3. medwoman

    SOD

    [quote]I’m happy to say that I have never been “traumatized” by anything (even the stuff I read about the Vietnam war as a kid) or “offended” by anything (and I’ve been to the Folsom Street fair). [/quote]

    I am happy that you were never “traumatized” by anything you have seen or heard. I also think it is important to realize that different people have different sensibilities and to not use oneself as the gold standard for what represents the optimal or correct response. I had enough “trauma” from the front page picture of the firefighter carrying out the body of a toddler after the McVeigh bombing that I have carried the image with my for years. Likewise,both of my children expressed significant trauma from the unexpectedly seen pictures of falling bodies from the 9/11 Twin Towers attack. ( They both told me they were shocked and sickened. Sounds like trauma to me)

    In this instance, I was responding to a specific instance in which a friend related her son’s actual adverse reaction to the pictures, not some idle speculation on what someone’s overly sensitive reaction might be. If there was one child disturbed by this coverage, I can imagine that there might be more similarly affected.

  4. SouthofDavis

    David asked me:

    > Why are you equating the district’s response
    > as motivated by politics?

    I am not connecting “left” and “right” with politics or any political party or movement. Left and right is more of a world view even for people not interested in politics who have never voted and never plan to vote.

    Most vegan hermits living in the mountains (or teaching at a Waldorf school) that raise their kids to worship mother earth tend to have a “left of center” world view, while most survivalist hunters living in the mountains (ot teaching in a Christian home school group) have a “right of center” world view.

  5. Ryan Kelly

    No one was worried about traumatizing my generation when images of non-violent marchers were attacked with fire hoses and dogs in the South, police beating protesters in Chicago, or images of teenaged boys fighting a war in Vietnam filled our TV screens and were covered in every newspaper. We had a beloved President shot in the head, as well as his brother a few years later. A Christian minister was gunned down. This was important information. War equals death. Guns equal death. Bullying equals death, whether self-inflicted, inflicted on others, or institutionalized (i.e. police brutality). We learned this. Our children need to learn this.

  6. medwoman

    Ryan Kelly

    [quote]War equals death. Guns equal death. Bullying equals death, whether self-inflicted, inflicted on others, or institutionalized (i.e. police brutality). We learned this. Our children need to learn this.[/quote]

    On this point we completely agree. And there are many different ways to learn a lesson. I am a pacifist as are my children. I did not need to see children torn apart by bombs to “learn” that war kills children.

  7. B. Nice

    “I wish the Davis schools would focus on teaching kids and not spend so much time trying to “help” parents protect their kids from things that “they” find “traumatizing”. “

    Some of these kids went to school with Daniel. If I was in high school and a kid I’d gone to school had been accused of crime like this, I might be traumatized.

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