STAMFORD — Stamford school officials have updated the district’s communication protocol after an April bus incident left many parents in the dark and sparked complaints to the district.
Now, whenever a Stamford Police officer responds to misconduct on a school bus, a cadre of specific officials will convene to decide if it is appropriate to send a message to parents. The same protocol will be used for other times when police are called, including a 911 call to a school building or a lockdown because of a potential threat.
Previously, no protocol was in place.
Effective immediately, if police respond to misconduct on a school bus, the school principal is expected to contact the associate superintendent assigned to their school. The building principal and the associate superintendent will then review the matter along with a member of the district’s public affairs team and legal counsel, before deciding if it is appropriate to notify the school community and the Board of Education. If deemed necessary, the associate superintendent will inform the Board of Education, while the school administrator will send a message to parents.
On April 21, students were held on a school bus from Scofield Magnet Middle School for roughly an hour, with some yelling “Let us out” as their parents — many visibly upset — waited outside. The driver had pulled over after some students were allegedly misbehaving and called dispatch for bus company First Student, which operates school buses for Stamford Public Schools. He was told to call police, and the driver didn’t allow any students to leave the bus until Stamford Police officers arrived.
The students who caused the disturbance, however, escaped through the bus’ emergency exit well before a patrol car arrived, according to Stamford Police.
Days after, parents were still trying to get more information about what exactly transpired and why, they said, it felt as if their children were punished for behavior they did not commit. The only communication that mentioned the incident was in a short message that was part of the school’s newsletter.
A handful of parents spoke during a virtual meeting of the Board of Education 11 days after the occurrence to express their frustration about the lack of clarity surrounding what happened. Members of the board, many who said they were dismayed that they were not briefed about what had transpired, called for better communication to parents, particularly when police are involved.
During that meeting, board member Versha Munshi-South, a Scofield parent herself, said parents should be aware if their children are interacting with police.
“The presence of police can be very traumatic for many people and I think we should tell parents that your kid went to a different location than they were supposed to and the police were called and that might have been very scary for students,” she said.
Also during that meeting, board president Jackie Heftman agreed that parents should have received more information.
“So when a child comes home and says to their parent, ‘There was a policeman on my bus today,’ it’s not going to be ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ and ‘Are you OK?’” she said.
Parent Connie Gomez took a video of the bus as students yelled to be let off. In the video, Gomez can be heard saying, in Spanish, “We as parents can’t do anything. How hopeless. The kids are desperate inside, my God.”
On Wednesday, Gomez said she was not aware that Stamford officials had made changes to its communications protocol.
“They haven’t notified us,” she said.
In May, just a few days after the Scofield parents spoke out during the board meeting, school officials met to come up with a new protocol for when to notify parents of certain events that take place in schools or buses.
The same protocol that is in place for police involvement in a bus incident will also be applied to a variety of occurrences, such as a 911 call to a school building, a lockdown or shelter-in-place due to an active or potential safety threat, or the arrest of a student on school property or on a bus. The protocol applies if a staff member is arrested in school or in the community, or if there is a bus accident with students on board.
“To protect student privacy, communications will not include specific details that could be used to identify students,” read a description of the new protocol that was provided to the Stamford Advocate by schools spokesperson Kathleen Steinberg.
Source : Stamford Advocate