Dear Greenwich Public School Families:
I am writing with the second in a series of periodic updates I will provide on efforts to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all students in the district. (The first update letter was sent last week on September 3, 2013.)
We are all concerned about and focused on the tragic passing of one of our students, Greenwich High School sophomore, Bart Palosz. We all want answers as to why he made the decision to end his own life. While we may never understand the intricacies of that decision, we are committed to doing everything we can to prevent something like this from happening again.
Please know that our overarching approach in all matters regarding this tragedy is one of compassion and concern. I am personally and professionally dedicated to making sure that our schools ensure the safety, health and well-being of all our students. This update addresses important developments to that end.
As I have stated several times, we cannot discuss publicly any issues or topics that threaten the privacy of individual students or their records. This is a stance based on the law and best ethical practice. Thus, we are remaining silent on any specifics of Bart Palosz's experiences in the Greenwich Public Schools. It is the same approach we would take with any other student in the GPS. It is the same approach educational institutions across the country take in similar situations.
Most people understand and respect our responsibility to protect student privacy. Unfortunately, some people do not understand our obligations and are criticizing district leadership. I accept this criticism, knowing that we are doing what is legally and ethically correct in refusing to discuss the private aspects of Bart Palosz's educational experience and record.
The investigation into Bart Palosz's experiences in the Greenwich Public Schools is ongoing. This is a comprehensive and complex investigation that will span an extended period of time. The District is committed to a thoughtful and thorough investigation. The Greenwich Police Department has been conducting an investigation into any possible criminal activity, with which we have been fully cooperating.
A separate investigation, initially started by the Greenwich Public Schools, now will be conducted by the Town of Greenwich Legal Department. The Legal Department will conduct an investigation that has strong objectivity and provides an appropriate level of dedicated professional time. The Town's legal department has experience in conducting similar investigations for other departments in an objective and ethical fashion.
GHS Hotline-Cards Help
Over the past week, Dr. Chris Winters and his leadership team have been considering ways to improve methods of communication between students and staff. In addition to speaking directly with a teacher, guidance counselor, social worker or other adult, GHS now has an email account and dedicated phone line for students or others to contact adults anonymously. Trained professionals at GHS will monitor both forms of communication on a daily basis. Anyone with a concern either about himself/herself or someone else is encouraged to contact the email account or the phone line. If you see something or know of something either in school or out that is a threat to student health and well-being, contacting us could make a difference.
Please access the Cards Help roll-out tip line/hotline: email address: email@example.com; phone #: within GHS x 2273 (CARD); Outside GHS (203) 863-8899.
Student Information System Update
First at GHS, and soon district-wide, we will institute a way to track reports of alleged bullying in our student information system. The system will allow us to correlate alleged bullying between aggressors and victims. Even if an accusation does not arise to formal bullying, we will be able to monitor repeated negative behaviors by students and intervene accordingly.
Viewing of Monitoring Videos
The GPS practice is to allow parents of students to view any videos taken of their students for safety and security purposes. Parents must view the video at the school and in the company of a district staff member. However, parents are not allowed to view videos of their students if the images of other students are included in the videos and the identity of the other students has not been masked. Safety and security videos of students are legally considered part of a student's educational record, which is private to all but parents of the particular student.
We are exploring the possibility of adding the required technology and expertise to mask particular students in videos. This would allow us greater flexibility in responding to parent requests to view videos when a discipline matter has been raised.
Consequences for Bullying
In the letter I sent last week, the attached material listed all policies, procedures and practices in the GPS related to bullying. Most important, the material stresses that we have a zero tolerance for bullying and that any students proven to have bullied other students face expulsion. Similarly, we take a severe stance with staff who have not met their professional and statutory requirements to confront alleged bullying.
I have established a work group of administrators to develop an action plan for each of the four priorities listed in last week's letter (listed below). The action plan will include a set of recommendations for changes, improvements and new efforts that must be instituted by the school district, students, parents and community partners. I will make sure that the school district makes all necessary changes, but I also will be turning to student, parents and community partners to look at ways to ensure peaceful and respectful behavior by all of us in and around the Greenwich Public Schools.
1. Review all policies, procedures and practices relative to bullying and make sure they are aligned with state law and national best practice;
2. Review how the district, parents and other individuals could monitor social media for information on students who are at risk of harming themselves or others;
3. Support student groups that are addressing bullying;
4. Reach out to the PTAC leadership and other parent bodies to support programs on bullying and the promotion of peaceful and respectful behavior.
In addition, we will cooperate fully with the specific investigation of Bart Palosz's experiences in the GPS.
We are focused on ensuring a safe school climate for all who are enrolled in or work in the Greenwich Public Schools and we will continue in these efforts. It is important to know that while appropriate attention has been directed toward this objective, the work of educating our students has never faltered. Our administrators, teachers and staff have been focused on teaching and learning. As I visit the schools, the excitement and promise of new learning is palpable. I look forward to working with all of you and the entire Greenwich community in educating our young people, not only in the areas of academics and extra-curricular activities, but in how to care for self and others.
William S. McKersie, Ph.D.
Greenwich Public Schools