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