CAMBRIDGE — More than 300 parents and members of the community attended the special meeting called by the Dorchester County Board of Education on Tuesday, March 6, following an incident at Cambridge-South Dorchester High School.
The fight that broke out in the CSD cafeteria on Thursday, March 1, and the videos of the incident circulating on Facebook sparked a public outcry about the safety and security of the learning environment provided by Dorchester County Public Schools.
Since the fight, Cambridge police and the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office have provided additional security at the school.
Before opening the meeting to public comment, the Dorchester County Board of Education announced its plan for a Citizen Advisory Council on School Environment.
Under the proposed framework for the Citizen Advisory Council on School Environment, there would be four parents, two students, two law enforcement representatives, two educators, a health department official, a Social Services official, a Juvenile Services official, a NAACP representative and a representative from DCPS Pupil Services. There also are three currently undefined seats that would accommodate other stakeholder groups not already identified.
Board Vice President Phil Rice was appointed chairman of the council, and Board Member Laura Layton was appointed vice chairman. The council will report to the school board with policy and regulatory recommendations.
Rice also noted that there could be subcommittees created at each school, by region, or other categorizations to allow more than the few council members to be involved and heard.
Public comment began with messages from the newly formed and quickly growing Dorchester County Public Schools Concerned Parents group and the Dorchester Educators teachers union.
“Social media and technology has exponentially changed all of our roles and the lines that used to divide each of them,” said Melissa Dennis, speaking on behalf of DCPS Concerned Parents. “We need every school to have the same consistent communication from the Board level down to the parent, without Facebook.”
She spoke to the dissolution of parent-teacher associations, and said that all groups are responsible for the failure of such engagement. She called for a resurgence of these groups with significant involvement from individuals at the Board level.
“Our community needs these opportunities to know how to make our children not just college and career ready, but life ready,” Dennis said.
Dorchester Educators President Katie Holbrook spoke on behalf of the teachers union.
“The recent events of last week have brought concerns for school safety and student discipline to the forefront, but these concerns are not new — in fact they have been woven in the fabric of our school system for some time — we are just now being forced to face them,” Holbrook said.
“We have committed to a collaborative relationship with this Board of Education, superintendent Dr. Mitchell, and directors,” she continued. “It is our duty to call for accountability from this Board of Education to ensure that the policies and procedures for safety, school discipline, and student conduct are appropriate and meet the needs of Dorchester County students, staff, and schools.”
Holbrook also called for better communication for faculty, staff, and parents, and appropriate crisis and emergency training for faculty and staff.
More than 30 individuals also spoke, some parents and some simply members of the community who care about the education of young people.
“We want to know that when our children pass through the doors of any school in this county, they can be confident of what to expect,” said parent Tammy Shockley. “That they can be confident that every single teacher, staff member, administrator, officer, and board member, to include the superintendent, have their safety, mental health, and overall best interest at heart.”
She also wants children to have confidence that school is a safe zone conducive to learning, that their hard work will produce positive results, and that bad behaviors will be met with consistent consequences.
Phil Reed, DCPS substitute teacher, praised CSD Principal Dave Bromwell and North Dorchester High School Principal Lynn Sorrells for their leadership in their respective schools. He said he has never felt unsafe or threatened while performing his job in either school.
“In recent years, teachers have had to take on several new roles,” said Reed. “They’re now expected to be psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, mentors, tutors, conflict resolution experts, standardized test proctors, and who knows what else. Not to mention, teachers are still providing all the information to students to prepare them, even when some students are not willing to even attempt to learn anything.”
He said a teacher’s hands are tied when it comes to discipline.
“Society has taught our young people that they can make excuses for their actions, and nothing will happen. It is everybody else’s fault,” Reed said.
He said that there must be consequences to students’ actions in order to teach responsibility, and follow the DCPS motto of "college and career readiness."
Many additional parents, educators, and community members spoke to their concerns, often echoing the voices quoted above, and offered suggestions for how to improve the situation at hand.
The Board of Education members, directors, and Superintendent Dr. Diana Mitchell listened to their comments for the better part of two hours, and promised to see them through to a resolution.
Sen. Addie Eckardt R-37_Mid-Shore; Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot; Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, D-37A-Dorchester-Wicomico; and Dorchester County Council President Ricky Travers also were in attendance at the meeting.