I guess I should have put, To Be Continued....... on last nights post. So tonight I continue. Tonight I went to the special Board of Education meeting that was held at the new gym/track to discuss the safety issues and concerns of parents and the community.
Perhaps I should back up here a moment and say that today was an interesting day on facebook where this issue was concerned. There were those that have true concern, those that have no concern, those with implicit trust with the school district and the BOE, those with no trust at all and then there were those that I don't really think care one way or another but they surely like to stir the pot and call people out. Tensions were high today and because of this, man did facebook take a beating at the meeting tonight. It was mostly by those who are not really of the facebook generation, but you could tell they were not fans.
I almost was not able to go tonight because I had developed the headache from hell this afternoon and David was having some seizure issues. Somehow though, when the time rolled around, my head was better and David seemed to be too. My intention going tonight was not to say a word, but to just sit there and listen and gain information. I really went with an open mind, so you can imagine my surprise as I caught myself signing my name to speak. I really didn't have a clue what I was going to say but my name was down so no backing out now.
As I entered the new gym, I was more impressed than I thought I would be. It is a beautiful facility that any kid would love to play basketball in or just run from end to end. I counted three doors or maybe four on the main level and then up above is a lovely track with an additional door or two. I really didn't know what kind of turnout I would see, but was pleasantly surprised to see the bleachers completely full on one entire side of the gym. I recognized representatives of the rec center as well as the grade school staff was in full force wearing their staff shirts. Watching people walk in, I saw people I went to school with, teachers who taught when I was in school, teachers who taught my kids, people from the community and a great many of the senior citizens of our town who have been fixtures here long before I became a resident. I purposely sat alone to ensure that I would pay attention and gain as much information as I could. I wanted to hear it all from both sides and everything in between.
Sitting there and watching all these people, I couldn't help but be reminded of why I love this town and why I chose to come back here and raise my kids. All these faces were my past, present and my kids future in this town. These were people I had grown up with, people I knew and some were even people that I cared a great deal about. Regardless of how anyone felt about this issue, they were part of my community and I knew we were all there to hopefully come to a compromise and possibly get a few more facts on this issue.
The BOE began on time and instructed that each speaker who had signed up was to keep their comments to 5 minutes. Crap! Speaker #1, a senior citizen, began the comments by praising the BOE, the adminstration and the new gym. I heard someone behind me say, "Seniors 1, Students 0." I hated hearing that as right off the bat it felt like an us against them situation. And then....they called my name. I prayed I wouldn't stand up there and draw a blank. I touched on my concern about who might be walking the track and watching our kids. I tried to make it clear that I wasn't pointing fingers or accusing, but I was concerned because of the familiarity kids might gain seeing these faces everyday and the potential for making the kids victims especially when privacy/security was so tight in every other aspect of the district. I said more, in fact shock of all shocks, I talked the entire 5 minutes. Did I impact anyones viewpoint? Doubtful. Once my piece was spoken, I then sat back and prepared myself to listen.
Many of the seniors spoke and two things were abundantly clear. One, I was closer to being a senior citizen than most of the parents there and two, some of these senior citizens really are displeased with how they feel they are being viewed by the concerned parents as well as they are a bit ticked off that they worked for that track and now they feel they are being told they can only have limited use of it. Hmmm......new perspective. As one man said, after all of his years of paying taxes and working and living in the community, by all rights he owned the grade school along with the other schools in town. He had a point, as did the rest of the seniors. Apparently this walking track is a state of the art track. It is cushiony which most of their doctors as well as their feet, legs and hips like. Some of these seniors had anxiously awaited this track since the bond issue was passed and they were the first in line for the open house to view the new facility. What's more, unlike some of us younger whipper snappers, they didn't rely on second hand information when this came up for the vote. They were well versed in ever aspect of what it was for, how it would be used and some had even worked on the bond issue itself. To top it off, some of these seniors have or have had kids and grand kids grow up in the district so they too want only safety for the kids, only their view of safety and the younger parents view of safety were two different things.
If ever I have seen a generation gap, I saw it tonight and I was in the unusual position of being just young enough and just old enough to clearly see both sides of the issue. All the seniors who spoke loved their new track. They also understood and respected the concern parents had for the safety of their kids, but being old school, most viewed the younger parents version of safety to be a bit extreme. In fact a couple of seniors could barely hide their contempt at the fact that parents would view someone in our home town (especially a senior) as a threat to our kids. Each also pointed out the safety measures that the rec center put in place to protect the kids so that the seniors and the kids would have no more than visual contact with each other. Several also made the point that when they are walking, they are either visiting with each other or concentrating on getting around the track their required number of times. Waving or making eye contact with the kids below is not on their agenda. In the end it was obvious that these seniors felt that they had worked for this track and now they were being chastised because of a bunch of over protective parents. Okay....point taken.
Then there were the younger parents who still had concerns about this shared facility and who were very upset one, because they felt that they had originally been mislead by being told that the seniors would not be using the track during school hours and two, because they knew that even though 99% of the seniors would never harm a hair on their kids heads, there was always that 1% who had the potential to step on to that track and put their kids at risk. It dawned on me as these parents spoke that they were indeed from another generation and yes, there was in fact a huge generation gap. These parents grew up at the tail end of the era when our town had no fences on the playgrounds, open lunches and kids could roam all over the place without fear of abduction, abuse or God forbid....death. Truthfully, some probably didn't even catch the tail end. These parents are a product of the Columbine, Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11 generation. They don't know anything other than schools being locked to the public, fenced in school yards, privacy policies, school lock downs and on sight police resource officers. They spent a good many of their growing years in an unintentional atmosphere of fear created the first time someone walked into a school and opened fire on the staff and students. Because of this, their fears are not ridiculous, they are not being over protective, they are just carrying on what they have been taught. Danger is everywhere and it is up to them to protect their kids at all costs!
Quite honestly, I blame the schools/district/administration/powers that be.....for some of this fear these parents have. We live in a fear based society right now and our schools inadvertently tell us that we should be afraid by the security policies they have in place. The very fact that everyone is suspect so they are locked out of the schools until buzzed in says we should be afraid. When a lost grandparent walks onto a playground for directions and the school goes into immediate lock down, we as parents are told we should be afraid and the kids are taught to fear. When a child can't have a picture taken or be talked about because of privacy issues because they fear the wrong people will hear, again the school is showing us we should fear. It may be society as a rule (because I am fully aware it is not just our schools, our town or even our state) but parents and kids are force fed fear and then when an issue like this shared facility comes up and people outside the school are able to view our kids as they walk the track, these parents go on high alert because this is contrary to everything they know about safety for their kids. Especially when they know very well that these same seniors who can watch their kids as they are in gym would cause a lock down if they happened onto the playground at recess time. The school is sending a mixed message and these parents can't comprehend the double standard. Can you blame these parents for being concerned, frustrated and down right angry? I certainly can't.
After all who had signed up to speak on the subject spoke, then certain resource speakers spoke. There was the head of the rec center who gave actual numbers of the seniors who walked and the times they walked which suddenly became less alarming to me as most like to walk early of a morning and are out of the gym before the kids even get to school. Then the principal of the grade school spoke, explaining how safety measures were handled while the kids were in the gym and then the director of district safety spoke, explaining the safety and security training the district does on a weekly basis. In the end, I felt that both sides of the issue (and yes I hate that there are sides) were well covered and eloquently presented as well as some facts from the resource speakers that I didn't know about.
As I listened to it all I realized that there is no right or wrong here. No one wants the kids put in danger, but there is a slight discrepancy about what each side views as danger. I kept thinking to myself as I listened, that with all these amazing people in this amazing town, surely we should be able to find a solution or a compromise that would benefit both the kids and the seniors and neither group would lose the facility, feel cheated and the parents minds would be put at ease as to the safety of their kids. I even asked questions after the meeting as to when the kids used the gym. Do they use it all day every day? I wonder if it is possible for the school to make the compromise to consolidate all their gym classes into all afternoons or perhaps just on certain days and for the seniors to compromise using the track on the days the kids weren't using the gym? Is it possible to curtain off the walking area so that the visual between the kids and the seniors is gone? I even thought that if during construction someone had thought to build a solid 6' wall around the track instead of wall.....rail....wall....rail, then this wouldn't even be an issue right now. Hindsight is always 20/20. Sigh!
So walking away from the meeting tonight, I will say that I left with a different perspective on the entire issue. I personally am not nearly as concerned about safety issues as I was going in, but I do know there are those that don't really see a compromise in sight and therefore, feel as if their concerns are just being dismissed. Sadly, I think that if that happens, we will be losing some students in the district and there are going to be some unhappy community members. Having a different perspective does not mean that I still don't respect and understand the concerns of the parents and I feel as vital members of this community raising our next generation, their voice should be heard and their concerns respected, and a compromise should be actively sought after. Will it happen? I guess will know come Monday.