Violence and rumors of violence: South Georgia unrest

Public School Violence and Rumors of Violence in South Georgia

A parent just called asking us to watch for strange people. (He says that there was a drive by shooting this morning at Colquitt County elementary school in Moultrie Georgia and that several bomb threats have been called in and all students have been sent home. I cannot confirm this online.)

However, the message from the superintendent from yesterday says the following:

On Thursday, April 19, 2007, a message threatening violence was reported to have been sent from the home computer of a freshman student at Colquitt County High School. It was investigated and the student was removed from school. The police were notified. During the evening hours rumors began spreading of acts of violence to occur at Colquitt County High School today to commemorate the anniversary of Columbine. The rumors continue to be investigated, but at this point there has been no indication that there is a basis. The Moultrie City Police and the Colquitt County Sheriff’s Department are maintaining an increased presence at the schools and particularly Colquitt County High School. School officials are on alert for any actions that may be out of the ordinary. I ask your help in addressing any rumors as together we work through difficult times to assure student safety and to eliminate rumors.
Thank you,
Leonard McCoy, Superintendent, Colquitt County Schools
*Note: Mr. McCoy has also sent a phone message to all Colquitt County Schools parents with the contents of this message.

There's nothing on the Internet yet but I'll share more when I find it. Who knows if the rumors are true.? Yet another reason for a text messaging notification system! What if something DID happen but parents were assured on this old message? What if something didn't happen and people panicked because they don't trust administrators to post the most current information? We want our kids to be safe and know each moment if they are!

I do know that the Albany school system yesterday was on code yellow and the teachers were there until after 5pm yesterday getting the students home.

But its not just south Georgia

Look at the headlines today on Google News:

Perhaps by glorifying Cho and his viewpoints, the media has unwittingly made him a martyr and symbol for many disenfranchised, disincluded youth.


Some thoughts

This is what we need to learn from this on the day of mourning for the Virginia Tech victims and the anniversary of the shooting at Columbine:

1) Children cannot learn unless they FEEL safe

(aka Maslow's heirarchy of needs) Such things as have happened unsettle us all. The environment right now in our public schools is one of unrest. That is what people are telling me. How can a student do well on their test when they are worried about dying? (Whether it is a real or perceived threat.)

2) Every child is important! It only takes just one to greatly effect others.

3) We need SMS notification systems using cell phones to help create better safety nets for our children.

(So we can text issues to parents immediately. We're going to use
Airset which is a free system and put it in this summer. We don't trust a website without a date on the posting. And when such messages are posted, they should be dated with a date and time and updated frequently to give parents peace of mind!)

4) We need to throw our hearts at the problem and not just throw money at it. Students need people who care!

We can create metal detectors but no heart detector has ever been created that will find evil plans in the human heart. A good teacher is the closest thing we will ever have to a heart detector besides a good parent.

5) We need to trust teachers.

Teachers saw the danger coming at Virginia Tech. Trust the teachers and listen to them for indeed many of them have insight into their students rivaled by only their parents.


Will a glass wall between the student and teacher make it safer? Will kids learn?

I think of my friend at another school that I was talking to yesterday. There are thinking of installing glass walls to protect the teachers from the students. How can learning theories be adjusted for such an environment!

You can't give an F

Another teacher says that after she turned in her grades last period she was given them back and told, “You cannot give anything below a 70.” We can't pass them to another grade level if they do not pass your class. So, you have to pass them. No choice. She was told to change her grades.

My grades are sacred. Students earn grades and any time they are given, it teaches students that they have a right to be given other things they haven't earned.

If you give an F you have to write an essay

Another public school teacher piped up and said, “Well, they allow us not to pass students but then we have to write an action plan that takes at least 3 hours and so the teachers have said they are just going to give 70's.”

The idea of not passing kids to another grade level unless they pass is a noble one. The idea of giving 70's to keep too many kids from being held back is repugnant.

Teaching is a noble profession and superintendants and principals who participate in such behavior, although it may be for valid budgetary reasons, are asking teachers to be untrue to everything they stand for!

No one has the answers

I don't profess to have the answers. I do profess to bring the controversial to my blog so that it will bring it to the attention to the many of you who read here who know more than I do about the answer. If you have insight, share it. Blog it. Comment it. If you have wisdom in this matter, I believe it is your responsibility to help all educators move through a tough time.

Testing, Thinking and Mourning

This is also the time of year that we test. I am very sad today. Sad and thinking. Thinking about what our country needs to be and where we're going. Sad because every child deserves to be safe and every child, teacher, and administrator deserve to be treated with respect. Just sad.

The Darkest Times create the greatest men and women in history

But I know this. The greatest men and women in the history of the world have risen to the top not during peace and prosperity but during the darkest hours of human existence.

Do not give up and cocoon but make a difference where you are!

Tell your students that you love them. I don't know about you, but I admire professor Liviu Librescu who held the door closed to the gunman while his students escaped through the windows. CBS news says:

At 76-years-old, the engineering professor blocked the door to his classroom on Monday morning to allow students to escape out the window. Some of the last ones to make the jump looked back to see Librescu killed by bullets from the gun of Cho Seung-Hui.

Good Teachers hold the door every day

A good teacher can save lives. A good teacher pours out their own life, maybe not in a moment as professor Librescu did but every day.

Teachers stand between the world an anarchy. Teachers are the bridge from one civilized society to another. Teaching is a noble profession and out of every profession on this planet, I am proud that I am a teacher.

I will love my students. I will comfort my students.

I will hold the door every day of my life.

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16 thoughts on “Violence and rumors of violence: South Georgia unrest

  1. It’s been a bit of a rough week across the country. In Rapid City, SD, our stresser was Tuesday, and here too our media doesn’t seem to understand how they contribute to the problem – the local paper has comment abilities on the stories, and they became a rumor factory even as we and the students were still locked down in the school. Irresponsible journalism.

    But we teachers can do it better. My kids have been writing and expressing their experiences in a special “lockdown blog,” and to an interested reader, they tell the real story better than the media could ever hope to do.

    Geoff

  2. Vicki,
    My daughter’s High School also had an incident this week. A freshman vowed to top the 33 victims and kill at least 100 at the school this Friday. A parent intercepted that e-mail. The student was arrested and two more are in custody. Although the principal of the school as called every parent (via a recording) to let us know that there is no “foreseeable” danger and that additional police would be on campus on Friday, my daughter did not feel safe enough to go to school today. She had not missed any other day from school except this year.

    I am wondering if all the attention given to the gunman in the media isn’t spurring somehow copycats across the country? I hope that I am wrong.

  3. Reader –
    I think this is the untold story. Our whole nation is in shock. I’m going to go read your blog. Thank you for sharing!

    Langwitches –
    It is amazing how so much of what is happening is centering around electronic communications. It shows me that so many students have a cavalier attitude towards electronic communications. They think it is a joke! It is very sad to see that this is happening across the country. It is also sad to see that the media is keeping the spotlight on something that is upsetting to everyone.

  4. North Americans just don’t seem to get it. Gun control laws need to become more powerful. I can almost understand a tertiary student going off the rails but I can’t comprehend the shootings in high schools.

    Are there any other countries in the world where high school students have been killed with guns by other high school students?

    It is the lack of gun control laws, stupid (to paraphrase a past President).

  5. Vicki, I am truly touched by your comments about “holding the door” for your students. I too am proud to be a teacher and I take pride in the fact that I make from 9am – 3pm a safe, happy, fun, enjoyable and rich learning experience for my 6 and 7 year olds. We need more teachers out there like you, because indeed, a good teacher can save lives…

  6. Vicki–
    As you read earlier this week, I was personally touched by this incident. Today on the anniversary of Columbine I had the privilege of hosting a group of local superintendents…2 of whom were called with threats…it is frightening how many kids are feeling vicitimized, or bullied and still yet those that are doing the vicitmizing or the bullying.
    Today as well…our kids participated in the HS Challenge According to the kids it was a very emotional and powerful experience. I highly recommend ALL HIGH SCHOOLS to visit Oprah’s site and consider what is happening in your schools. After viewing the number of videos on You Tube tagged Virginia Tech it is obvious that people have opinions and feelings….

  7. Frustrating times up here in NH as well. We had four separate schools in the Lakes Region close due to unspecified threats to the safety of those in the buildings. They closed the schools yesterday and today and with school vacation next week I think they are hoping that the media attention and copy-cat incidences will subside.

    I can only hope.

  8. There have been copycat incidents here in Texas as well. I feel sure this will calm down, but it seems even more than there were after Columbine. And of course some of it is that schools are on their guard and being cautious also.

    We’ve had alarmed parents, tense students and staff, though, to be sure.

    And to top it all off, our state standardized test was given this week for about four hours a day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, leaving not much time to process this with our students because the schedule has been completely disrupted.

    So it’s just really been a difficult and tiring week for everyone.

    I’m interested in reading the student blog comments.

  9. “Children cannot learn unless they FEEL safe.”

    I have no wish to “glorify Cho”. What he did was heinous and inexcusable. But, reading through some of the material he is said to have written, I wonder how safe he felt. What drove him to do something so unimagineably evil? If the writing ascribed to him is truly his, he was one very damaged young man, bullied, ostracised and victimised. What can we do to ensure that we don’t see more like him? It seems to me that he needed help a long time ago.

    As you may have read on my blog, my own son has been targeted by a group of kids who have been victimising him. When I went to school for support, they were helpless to take any action. I doubt that he will ever do something as extreme as this, but will the day come when he snaps and makes reprisals? And who will be held responsible then? Him? His Dad and me? I wonder if Cho’s parents ever went to the school and said, “Please help, our son is being bullied.”

    I agree that “every child is important”. That includes the “weird” ones. The “geeks”. The “freaks”. I wonder if Cho ever felt that he mattered. I wonder how many other Chos are coming up through the system.

    We need more Vickis, more Livius to hold the door. To make sure that EVERY child feels safe, feels nurtured.

  10. The medium is the message

    As you put it the “cavalier attitude” targets a problem. Two presumptions need to be addressed with our students. One, that I can hide behide a wall of digital anonymity and two, that I can usurp the tools to proliferate content in the name of noteriety. It is not a joke. Who can now argue against the need for teachers to address the formation of digital skills/literacy in our children.

    We were in “lock-down” twice this week.

  11. Kristin wanted to finish her comment with –
    Although there are very negative things associated with the way media has portrayed this event. The YouTube tributes and number of places in which the victims have been able to be recognized shows that technology can be used for grieving and healing as well…..

    feel free to add…or not, I just have been so affected by this tragedy….watching people be able to express themselves and connect with the students and family at Tech…and then watching your students connect globally….really overwhelming.

  12. Steve-

    I live in a very rural area and guns are everywhere but we have very little problem. People can kill with a fork if they really want to. The problems we are having are as much a matter of hate and misuse of electronic communications — just found out that the Colquitt county incident was started with a student blogging support of the gunman at VT. And the rumors started going.

    I think what we’re seeing is a symptom of the fear and stress and mourning that our whole country is in right now. We’re all on edge. All it takes is one person who doesn’t abide by the law. Such a person as Cho would find a way to do harm no matter the law, I have a feeling.

    I am saddened that the law didn’t listen to his teacher!

    Rachel–
    You understand the vital importance of your role. Many teachers do not see themselves as the most noble profession — the ones who shape the future. I’m glad that you do! Time flies as a teacher and we reap the harvest years after our work is done but oh what a reward it is to make a difference!

    John
    You are fortunate to have a break next week. Most of us have already had our break and are right in the middle of testing. Unfortunately, this is the time of year for “bomb threats” anyway b/c unfortunately many teachers say that students see it as a way to get time out of school (and they hate the two weeks of testing!)

    Kristin-
    Thank you for pointing out the resources.

    Carolyn –
    Your sentiments are echoed everywhere — of the 6 public school teacher friends I talked to today at the archery meet 5 had incidents this week sparked by blog posts, e-mails, rumors, and fear. I think we all wish we could do something to bring those 32 kids back and prevent it from happening in the future.

    Karyn-
    I too agree. I am heart broken for he and his parents. Perhaps he had a chemical imbalance but perhaps something or somethings terrible happened to him that left him scarred forever. I saw one of Cho’s roommates on the news being interviewed and the whole time he had this silly grin on his face. It bothered me. I know that sometimes kids react with smiles b/c they don’t know how to react but I could also picture being pushed over the edge. As you know, I was bullied and if I did not have faith in my God and a personal relationship with my Lord — where would I be?

    Jeff-
    At the core of many of these lockdowns are digital communications — people blogging and e-mailing and “joking” but not realizing that they are not anonymous and that you can’t joke like that. That is what happened in colquitt county! You are right on the money!

    There is a pattern in these messages from throughout the country and world. Every child matters. Safety matters. Electronic communication matters. Teachers matter.

    Society must not view schools as a babysitting service but as a vital, integral, important part of shaping our future. Schools are not something we throw money at but all of us should give our time and energy to volunteer and help with our nation and world’s schools.

    And, we all continue to mourn. I think what we see is the shock and mourning of a society and it is often most reflected in our schools.

  13. Thanks Vicki for writing this, “Teachers saw the danger coming at Virginia Tech. Trust the teachers and listen to them for indeed many of them have insight into their students rivaled by only their parents.”

    It is so true. Teachers especially special education teachers tell administrators when we feel that a student has a serious problem and is violent toward other children and/or the teacher. Yet, school administrators often say it is a part of their disability and that we need to deal with it. Interestingly, many of these administrators are not trained in special education. Therefore, they don’t really know the nature of various disabilities and the behaviors that go along with it.

    Now with inclusion severely emotionally disturbed children will (and are already) placed in the mainstream classes in regular education. Indeed, Cho was diagnosed with autism at the age of 8. That was coupled with mental illness which teachers/professors/fellow students/suite-mates may not have been aware of. I wonder if he was served in a special education classroom or in a regular education classroom while in high school?

    I am a disabilities advocate. However, I do not believe that inclusion is always best for the school community. We need to help keep ALL our kids safe. I hope that more people will listen to teachers when we say there is a serious problem.

    Thanks for your voice to get other people to think about these issues.

    All my best wishes,
    Mechelle

  14. I do not fail children, they fail themselves and their parents fail them. As a result, I have a non-negotiable policy regarding grades. I only give the grade the child deserves. Most of the pressure to change grades in my current school comes from parents, but in a previous school I was pressured to change grades. I refused and when I was told that they could do it without my consent, I said, then, that is what you’ll have to do. In the end, they didn’t.

    As for manipulation through extra work or insincere action plans (essentially used to keep kids off of the special ed rolls) I don’t care. I’d rather write an action plan then feel compromised. You can be sure any action plan I create under duress will be a boilerplate for future action plans.

  15. This is a powerful and meaningful post. A good teacher can save lives. What you say is true, a good teacher pours out their own life, maybe not in a moment as professor Librescu did but every day. I too am proud to be a teacher and I love all of my students, even if they don’t see it right now. I just want the best for them. I wish that they would take the time to reflect on the terrible occurrence at VT. All of those students woke up thinking that life would go on a usual and their lives were cut short by a senseless act of violence. My heart goes out to all of the victims and their families. Thanks for the meaningful post Vickie.

  16. As a professor at the university level, I think it is important to understand the differences between the system in K-12 and the university level. Because most students at college are adults (over 18) there are safeguards to their privacy that younger students do not have. As a result, any student coming into the college with disabilities and/or mental health problems may not be identified. In terms of mental health histories, there is absolute privacy and most mental health patients have the right to deny treatment as long as they don’t present a threat to themselves or others. Unlike a school teacher, I have no clear cut guidelines or central administrator to go to if I feel a student is experiencing mental health issues (this usually is apparent just before finals or before graduation). I do have a mechanism if the student has been identified as having learning or any other disabilities (i.e. one student suffered panic attacks, considered a disability. I was able to speak with the specialists in the disability office to work out how I would assess her public speaking skills and the extent to which there needed to be some flexibility-this did not mean I had to waive public speaking requirements, but rather I needed to work with the student differently). I think there should be a central office at all levels of education that work with physical, educational, and mental health/emotional disabilities, manned by specialists that have the right to remove a student that is a threat or prevents learning for themselves and others in the class. There should be alternatives for these students to be educated, but through a formal process, the schools should also be allowed to remove these students, as other students have the right to learn in a safe environment. Finally, this takes money. I would like to see some of the money going to subsidize big business put into educating all of our students rather than trying to mass produce workers.

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