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School board hears deep concerns on a class


It’s hard for a child to learn in a classroom if other students are being disruptive, even violent.

A conversation about this took place at the Grand Coulee Dam School District Board of Directors’ meeting April 22.

Clarissa Cawston addressed the board, bringing up behavioral issues in her daughter’s second-grade class, where she began volunteering daily after noticing her daughter’s grades slipping.

“She has one kid over here chucking stuff across the room, one kid over here just non-stop talking, one kid over here who will just walk out — and you don’t know where they go,” Cawston said, describing the classroom. “I don’t know what this school can do to help them. You guys have good teachers, but they aren’t able to teach this grade.”

Cawston worried that students in the class are “getting passed along every year, because it’s such a hard grade” and that they won’t be ready for third grade. “If you see this class, it’s all day the teachers are just refereeing.”

At dinner, when asked about her day, her second-grader recounts other kids’ bad behavior, from not listening to the teacher to throwing things across the room.

“It’s never anything about learning; it’s always something about these behavioral kids,” Cawston said. “I contemplated holding her back a year just to get her out of the class. It’s that red flaggy.”

She said other parents have had similar thoughts.

Cawston owns and operates the Koulee Kids Daycare Center in Coulee Dam, where, she said, she has hired extra help so she can volunteer at the school.

Cawston is also worried about her daughter’s potentially deadly peanut allergy as it relates to discipline in the school.

“There was a kid in her class who kept telling her, ‘I’m going to put peanuts in your lunch so I can watch you die,’ Cawston said. She learned about that after asking why her daughter wasn’t eating the lunch she’d packed for her.

Incidents with staff have included a staff member telling her daughter to use a drinking fountain, which she can’t do because of the risk of exposure to peanut particles, and sending a peanut butter cookie to the class with a student, she said.

Board Director Brenda Covington empathized with Cawston’s concerns.

“I know, in my son’s class, he was asked to have patience with the student who had behavioral problems, like physical violence problems, and I think that’s wrong,” Covington said. “No student should ever be in a position where they are being told, ‘You need to have patience with somebody else who is being violent with you.’”

School Board Chairman Rich Black asked what the solution was, and high school student Lillie LaPlace spoke up.

“Teach students what the standards actually are,” LaPlace said. “Like the example of the kid where the staff told him just to deal with it. That’s setting a bad example on how to deal with problems and is just going to lead to other issues later on in life.

“Say if you have a student in high school, and they’re being assaulted,” she continued. “They’re not going to bring it up, just because it’s been reinforced as a precedent that you just take it, and you don’t bring it up.”

LaPlace then brought up the practice of rewarding the students with behavioral problems. “So you always have people on the elementary side that will give them candy just for being acceptable, not for actually excelling. ‘Here’s a candy because you didn’t have a tantrum today.’ That’s not acceptable.”

“I’m not saying the issues aren’t there,” Superintendent Paul Turner said, “but we have programs to address what the kids bring to the school. Not every kid is walking in the door ready to learn. The things we can put together to help them get there, yeah, we’re working on those things. We have to get the kids up to the point where they can learn.”

“It’s not like we’re not doing anything,” Turner continued. “If we look at the level of discipline two years ago versus today, do we still have issues in the classroom? You bet. Are they as extreme as they were? Not even close.”

“My concern is, we do have all these programs that are or supposed to be in place,” Director Carla Marconi said, “but, like she states, (if) the teacher can’t even teach because she’s being the ref, then they aren’t being taught.”

“It’s fine to talk about this,” LaPlace said, “but if nothing is actually done, then it’s just useless and we’re wasting time.”

“That’s our point too,” Black said. “We would like to see some steps moving forward.”

The board agreed that it is important to talk about these issues further.

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