ANN ARBOR, MI – Parents from an Ann Arbor elementary school continue to seek answers on how the district handles violent incidents involving students in the classroom.
Parents whose children are entering second grade at Ann Arbor’s Eberwhite Elementary School say they’ve been looking for answers about the district’s safety plan since May, describing incidents where students were subjected to physical violence from other students, classroom lockdowns and witnessing physical assaults of aids and teachers during the previous school year.
Ann Arbor Public Schools officials said they recently shared plans with parents and are committing more resources to address behavioral issues in the coming school year, which begins Monday, Aug. 28.
Parent Jennifer Lawrence said her now-second grade student was assaulted on numerous occasions last school year by another student who remained in her child’s classroom throughout the year.
“I was not notified of the assault until after my son returned home with a black eye,” Lawrence said. “This was only one of many incidents that occurred at the school. This is unacceptable.”
Lawrence is one of several Eberwhite parents who spoke during the Aug. 23 Ann Arbor School Board meeting about their frustrations with what they call AAPS’ lack of a response to their ongoing concerns.
Helen Meier said during the last two years there have been incidents where children have been the victims of or witnessed a student being choked, students and teachers getting “punched repeatedly” and “physical assaults that drew blood.”
Meier has removed her child from Eberwhite, the family’s neighborhood school, because of what she describes as a risk for physical harm, the short and long-term mental health impacts of witnessing violence and the inability for them to receive an adequate education in the current environment.
“Importantly, we received no notice from the school or administration that these events were occurring; we only became aware of these incidents because our children told us about them or came home hurt,” Meier said in her public commentary remarks. “I have removed my child from AAPS entirely because I no longer trust the district will communicate when my child’s safety has been compromised.”
Eberwhite parents initially wrote a letter detailing their concerns to the district last spring asking for answers about how parents are notified when violence is witnessed by students and when lockdowns occur.
Parent Charlie Cook said she wants to know how to support her child if they witness dangerous behavior.
“I was OK waiting to let the administration get their ducks in a row before school starts next week but it is cutting it a bit too close,” Cook said. “I would love to know what the policy is and if a policy even exists for this situation. It sounds like it is critical for not just our classroom at Eberwhite but for other schools as well.”
In a message to families from the first-grade cohort, Eberwhite Principal Michelle Hubbard said it’s important to recognize that each incident is handled individually and that it’s impossible to outline its response for each behavior.
“For example, a student yelling in the classroom would be an unexpected behavior,” Hubbard said. “Our response to that would be different than if a student unexpectedly threw objects in the classroom. It is the job of the classroom teacher, support staff and administration to act in accordance with each incident. In every scenario the adult assesses the situation, provides clear directions to all children, and intervenes with the goal of keeping all of our students safe.”
Regarding how children are guided after an incident, Hubbard said it’s again important to recognize that each concern is handled individually and that the school can’t predetermine its response.
“Teachers work with students to ensure they are comfortable and discuss what they can without violating FERPA rights for our students,” Hubbard said. “If the need arises where a social worker intervention is beneficial and needed, we are able to bring that resource into the classroom to work with students.”
Parent Valerie Brugeman said she understands and respects that there is some information that can’t be shared during those types of incidents due to restrictions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
She was frustrated, however, that AAPS won’t explore how violent incidents can be better communicated to parents while still respecting privacy laws.
“Parents have a right to know when their children experience violence in school,” Brugeman said. “This includes when they witness it. I sense the district feels saying ‘trust us’ is enough. It was not enough the past two years, thus hard to trust given the circumstances.”
Renewed urgency from families to better understand AAPS’ response to violent incidents in the classroom and on school property comes at a time when the district has been scrutinized for its response to a student being assaulted in 2021 by a school bus aide.
AAPS has been sued by the child’s parent, who alleges the district did not review footage of the incident for five weeks, forcing the child to face his abuser.
The lawsuit has been a catalyst for parents seeking the removal of Jeanice Swift as the district’s superintendent, with several speaking out during the Aug. 23 meeting asking how district leadership responds and communicates to families when a violent incident happens.
Swift said members of the district’s team worked to analyzed the situation at Eberwhite Elementary and coordinated a plan for the first grade cohort, with Hubbard outlining those plans to families in an email on Aug. 22.
Hubbard worked with administrators from its Office of Special Education and director of Elementary Education to develop plans that include adding an intensive resource support classroom at Eberwhite, a highly-certificated teacher and “behavior plans” are in place for students who are not served on IEPs or in the intensive classroom.
The resource support classroom is available to students with an IEP who require additional assistance to help meet their educational and social needs throughout the day, Swift said.
“As we committed to do, members of our team have further analyzed the situation and coordinated a plan for the Eberwhite first grade cohort,” Swift said. “We have increased both the program and teacher capacity to address the student behavior concerns at Eberwhite; solid plans are in place for starting school on Monday.”