Another Denny Carnival Bullying Story

From Diane Ravitch's column (this is a parent who wrote to Seattle Opt Out:

This spring the SBA was rolled out in grades 3-8, 10 and 11. We were delighted to learn that there were many opt outs across the Seattle School District, as well as in every corner of the State. We formed the Seattle Opt Out Group in Dec. 2014 and have worked tirelessly in the first half of 2015 to inform parents about opting out and the problems that high stakes standardized tests bring with them. We plan to continue our efforts in earnest over the summer and into the next school year.

Yesterday, however, we learned of an event that has us quite alarmed, and we want to proceed in as informed a manner as possible.

Apparently at a Seattle middle school the principal forbade students who opted out of the SBA to attend a year-end school carnival last Friday.

A parent reached out to us and sent us this note:

Here is my daughter’s experience with being excluded from the Denny Carnival last Friday.

During the last period of the day, my daughter was summoned to the vice principal’s office. She waited for about twenty minutes and was then invited into the office. The vice principal informed my daughter that two of her teachers had emailed her earlier in the day to inquire why she was not on the approved list for the carnival because she had outstanding effort grades(all A’s in effort as well as academics). The vice principal then informed my daughter that she may be able to write a letter of appeal, but she would let her know if that was possible by the end of the period. She explained that she had to follow the rules which were that only students excused from the SBAC for medical reasons would be allowed to attend the carnival. Students who opted out would not be allowed to go because they did not follow the rules.

My daughter then returned to her classroom to wait. Her teacher read a list of students who were allowed to go to the carnival and she was not on the list. She was then sent to a another teacher’s room to do homework with the other students who weren’t eligible, mostly due to behavior infractions. After 30 minutes, she was informed that she could write a letter of appeal.

My daughter was very upset and disappointed, but she knew that her teachers supported her and that this was just an unfair rule.

We would appreciate any guidance as to how we should proceed. It has been suggested that this is a case of the principal violating student discipline policy. Have you heard of a punitive measure such as this occurring elsewhere in the country and, if so, can you describe to us the route of action that was taken? Any advice is welcomed by us!

One of Ravitch's readers said this:

Did other kids opt out? Did they get banned from the carnival? Then have a celebration with them. Let the superintendent know what you did. Let the media know what happened. Let other parents know. But stay true and logically consistent with your beliefs and actions. In fact, the teachers ought to excuse themselves from the carnival as best they can. With some discussion, I suspect some students would agree to stand with their excluded friends.

Readers, what would be the best course of action?  For me, I would never take it silently because, of course, that's what Principal Clark wants.  He wants parents and kids to feel bad and vow never to opt out again.  And that students who were excluded tell OTHER students and by next year, the word will be out and he's hoping fewer students opt out.

Except maybe, as the writer above says, more students may choose NOT go to the carnival in support of friends who are excluded.  Or students who do go to the carnival wear shirts saying, "Just say no to bullying."  

Because honestly, that's what this is.  It's not about good or bad behavior - it's about trying to get your way.  And again, the parents did nothing illegal, either by federal or state law.  Until opting out is stated to be against district policy, they also did nothing wrong on the district front either. 

Principal Clark thinks this is wrong.  That's his opinion.  Apparently, he gets to run the school on his opinion which I think is wrong.  He should run it based on district policies and state/federal regulations.  

The idea that there are "consequences" to opting out is wrong.  The "consequence" is that the student/parents and school don't have a score for that kid.  I'm pretty sure, though, that the kid's teachers could accurately convey how that student is doing.  


Anonymous said…
One would hope that this would lead to all students at Denny opting out. Nothing like a show of support to bring light to this particularly odious example of how out of control testing has gotten.

= Hope
mirmac1 said…
Just one of the cadre of power-hungry principals who think they can make up the rules and break laws.
Anonymous said…
I agreed with what you said, up until the last part. The idea that there are "consequences" to opting out is wrong. The "consequence" is that the student/parents and school don't have a score for that kid. It's fine for there to be consequences, but they should be reasonable and equitable. Opting out shouldn't mean your child just gets to play for those 8 hours (?), or that they get those days "off." They should have some reasonable work to do instead. Independent reading is fine, working on other homework, etc. If the carnival is meant as a reward for the hard work of testing, why is it unreasonable to expect that students whose parents opt them out of the test also put in a bit of time doing some work as well? I know middle school age kids who stay home and play video games while others are at school--should they get a carnival as reward for that hard work, too? After all, it's their parents who let them stay home and play...

I think it's sending the wrong message to kids to say "I don't think you should take this test, but you should be entitled to the carnival regardless." A much better message would be to say "I disagree with this test and don't want you to take it. There may be consequences, but we have to stand up for what we believe in. I'll do what I can to make sure things are fair, though. This might mean you have to do a different type of work instead of the test in order to 'earn' participation in the carnival." But I seem to be in the minority on this one, which is ok with me.

Stu said…
HF: Trouble is, the carnival is reward for grades and effort. It has nothing to do with the testing and for the principal to attach the two is ridiculous and punitive.

- stu
Lynn said…
To carry this one step further, why is he rewarding kids for grades? Let parents do this at home if they choose.

Does Eckstein have parties for kids with good grades? I doubt it. It's only in high poverty schools that we feel kids need a system of punishments and bribes to make them value learning. This principal is using charter school tactics on these kids.

If this was my school, I'd try to get the PTA to start a discussion of the whole system of bribes and punishments and I'd include testing in that discussion. If Denny has an anti-bullying program, I'd make an official request (copying district staff) asking that it include advice on dealing with adult bullies.

I'd also be contacting all the board members and the superintendent asking for support in improving the climate at Denny.
Anonymous said…
Sounds like parents need to organize a very fun Opt-Out party. The only people invited, are those who opted out of SBAC. Next year, it will be during the actual SBAC. It's easy to beat them at their own game.

Stop the Insanity
Anonymous said…
I don't for one second believe the Opt-Out movement won't be met by the fury of the powerful whose pocketbooks are being touched.

Honestly, I'd prepare for more of this, more punishing the children, more pressure on the families to conform.

This is not a movement for the faint of heart and any student/family participating in it might want to review the experiences of those who have engaged in civil disobedience.

If you tamper with a billion dollar industry, plus all of the jobs and egos that are dependent upon it, prepare for the fire hoses. Just sayin'.

SE Mom
Anonymous said…
My daughter had asked me if there would be any consequences to opting out.

I responded that if there were, it would be a great college essay about ownership of education. The opt out must be done by a parent. Placing the consequence on the student is beyond disrespectful.

If the parent ops out, the student does not have the ability to opt in. Students who opted out did follow the rules, it just so happens to be the ones set by their family.

- another parent
Anonymous said…
What message is being sent here? The carnival was a year-end celebration evidently. So being excluded for opting out of SBAC sends the message that taking the SBAC was more important than anything else this child did all year in school. Is that what the principal wants students to take away from this experience?

-HS Parent
Anonymous said…
Maybe this is exactly the message that is being sent? SBAC is more important. Aren't principals who continue to opt-in sending a similar message through their endorsement?

SE Mom
Anonymous said…
@ Stu and Lynn, well I'm not there at the school to know for certain, but from the information presented here it actually does NOT sound like the carnival is a reward for grades.

According to what Melissa wrote in the earlier thread on this, the Principal wrote this in his letter:
In addition to many special activities throughout the year, for the past ten years, Denny has hosted a carnival at the end of the state testing period for those scholars who have given their best performance. The scholars’ effort is tracked on a form called the “My Best Performance Rubric,” a copy of which is located in their student planners. In the same post, Melissa acknowledged that the My Best Performance Rubric was not something used all year long, but only used during testing.

The recent complaint about an A-student who didn't automatically get to participate seems to provide further evidence that it's not about grades. The big question, however, is whether it's really about effort, as stated--or is it about SBAC participation? It would seem the latter, which is wrong. If it's truly supposed to be about effort, others should have the same opportunity to put forth their best effort (on whatever) during that same time period, and the principal should have facilitated that. Nothing major, but make the kids understand they need to do some alternate work during that window--read a book, watch a science video, make art, practice music, etc., who cares. It can be work of their choosing, but then have them complete the rubric. Easy as pie, but he blew it.

Granted, it's possible the principal is lying, and that the carnival had always previously been a reward for hard work throughout the year and had nothing to do with best efforts during state testing. If he's changing his story all of a sudden now that we have the SBAC--and did so without making it clear ahead of time--that's doubly wrong.

Anonymous said…
No, I think that a principal can have multiple goals for students during the year, which might include, learning, effort, team work, remembering their locker combination, and taking SBAC. But the rewards or punishments for each should reflect their importance. So remembering the locker combination would not have a bigger reward/punishment than putting in consistent effort in class or learning the material. So if a student got A's, like this child did, it might show that they met some expectations that were important to the principal, but evidently not as important as taking the SBAC in this case.

My child's principal did have the SBAC given at their school but there was no punishment or reward for taking it. It seemed less important than most other expectations at school this year. Which I think is a more reasonable response from the principal than making it the most important expectation of the year.

-HS Parent
Again, transparency is key. What was the goal? How was this goal met this way?

I don't think it takes much to see what it was that Principal Clark was attempting to do (albeit in a clumsy fashion).

As I said previously, if you want kids to grow up disliking adults with authority, this is the surest way to that end.
Anonymous said…
I responded that if there were, it would be a great college essay about ownership of education. The opt out must be done by a parent. Placing the consequence on the student is beyond disrespectful.

It's important to note that students absolutely can opt out, or "refuse," on their own.

Anonymous said…
I know this is not the point - but I am curious: do middle schoolers, with their distinctly middle school pubescent attitudes, want to go to a thing like this? Wouldn't wanting to go make you kind of uncool to your peers? Woudn't you elevate your status amongst the tribe of 12 year olds by spouting how you were too cool to go, something like 'carnivals are for babies'? I know this isn't the point of the thread, and the whole carrot/stick thing is capricious, ridiculous, and incredibly small, but honestly, my kids would wear this disinvitation like a giant shiny badge of honor. Perhaps I've got kids with more attitude than the average middle schooler, but I really can't see them wanting to go, unless the principal was in a dunk tank. Then they would LOVE IT. Other than that, they are not interested in a cotton candy machine or cheap prizes, other than to grouse about them.

Po3 said…
If this had been one of my students, I would contact the State Ombudsman to ask how to file a formal complaint against the principal and then follow up.
Well, Perplexed, my take is that kids like to go for two reasons.

1) it may be perceived as where everybody else is (dumb carnival or not). No one likes to think they may be missing either a good time or some kind of ability to know what happened there

2) what else do middle schoolers really have to do?

That's just me.
Anonymous said…
Oh yeah. Middle schoolers don't want to be left out. So if everyone is going to something and they aren't allowed to go--it's torture. No matter how cool the student is or uncool the activity.

North End Parent
Anonymous said…
For a conscientious kid there is also shame involved in being publicly punished in this way.

-HS Parent
Anonymous said…
Genuine question: if the opt-out movement is a part of a direct action campaign designed to highlight awareness of and opposition to testing, isn't the intent of such campaigns to provoke retaliation? Isn't part of the lesson the students are supposed to be learning that we sacrifice our comfort at times to stand up for principles? Certainly young people have been at the vanguard of many other direct action campaigns, and suffered far greater losses than not going to a school carnival. Wouldn't the lesson be to have the courage of your convictions and, if anything, as Ms. Ravitch suggests, create an alternate celebration as part of the campaign, and to highlight the perceived injustice of the carnival?

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to hear parents who have celebrated their bravery in opting students out now complaining so vehemently about a tiny loss of privilege for the students as a result, and responding by smack-talking educators that have been in the trenches a long time, and who have little freedom to answer back. But what am I missing? Do I have a different premise than the parents who opted students out of testing about what this movement is, or what civil disobedience is supposed to look like?

Southeast mom
Anonymous said…
The principal's response is just so petty. If he has issues with the parent's decision to opt their child out of testing, then talk to the parents. Punishing and humiliating the child by forbidding him or her to go to the carnival is just mean, short sighted, and escalates tensions at the school - NP
Anonymous said…
Southeast Mom,

For me it is about the message being sent to students that compliance is the most important thing for them to learn in school. I get tired of that being the takeaway from school. So if students are thinking about what they should value in school next year they will know that taking the SBAC is more important than learning anything at all for the whole year. Because learning counts for nothing in this system of rewards & SBAC counts for everything. Sure making compliance the most important value in school may make the adult's jobs easier, but it seems a betrayal of the whole purpose of eduction.

I not only feel this way about SBAC but about the other ways we send this message to kids. My kid was shocked to find out in middle school that 'it is more important to get to class on time, than whether you learn anything once you get there'.


SE Mom, you have a few things wrong. For the overwhelming majority of people in the opt-out movement, the goal is NOT to end testing. It's to end high-stakes testing for both students and teachers and find testing that allows teachers feedback to help students, is not overly costly or lengthy and is just one data point.

The object certainly is not to retaliate against students. Teachers and principals can make it clear to parents (the adults) that they believe the school will not have the needed data to make a clear assessment of that student. The school can say they believe it hurts their school when they don't know - from one test score - how the entire school is doing.

I would have no problem with the principal rounding up the kids who opt-out and explaining to them why he/she believes it is important to take the test. I even wouldn't have a problem with a teacher, before students leave the room, saying that he/she wishes everyone was taking the test.

But shaming or withholding of privileges ESPECIALLY when it is not clearly stated in advance is wrong. If Mr. Clark had had the courage of his convictions and let parents/students know, it might make more sense. This just looks petty and punitive.

Again, there is nothing illegal in the state law to opt out nor is it against any stated district policy. That's why - to me - that while opting out is akin to civil disobedience, it isn't really. Civil disobedience is standing up against a law or regulation, opting out is not.

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