The following e-mail was sent on April 17 to the Harford County Board of Education, and HCPS senior staff members Melanie Wernig, risk manager, and Dr. Keri Guilbault, coordinator of accelerated learning programs. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
On behalf of the Harford County Destination Imagination [DI] community I would like to thank the school system for considering options to provide a safe environment for students in the DI program, as well as other extracurricular activities. I want to stress that I am in favor of new policies and procedures that limit the liability of the school system.
At the April 14, 2014 HCPS Board of Education Meeting, central office staff briefed the board members on procedures that were being considered to regulate safety in extracurricular activities. During the course of this briefing, some of the statements made by central office personnel were false, misleading, or misrepresentative of statements made by DI and school personnel. The following is a response to these damaging statements:
1. Student Safety
There were several statements made at the meeting that implied that DI Team Mangers and some supervisors of extracurricular activities are cavalier about safety, and, therefore, are not qualified to supervise students using power tools. In addition, it was implied that the “rules of interference” (which require DI participants to perform all of the work on their solutions) prevent team managers from instructing students on safe methods for operating tools.
I want to stress that all DI Team Managers are required to supervise all student activities and to maintain a safe environment for the participants. Team managers are allowed to instruct students on how to use tools and appropriate safety protocols. In fact, DI’s rules of interference clearly state the following:
“Safety is always paramount for Destination Imagination teams. It is not Interference for a Team Manager or parent to point out something to the team that the Team Manager or parent considers unsafe, nor is it Interference to prevent the team from engaging in any unsafe behavior.” …. “If your team does not know the skills that are needed to build your idea, you must learn the skills or find another way to do the project. … A professional welder or shop teacher may teach you how to weld, but that person may not show you how to weld any part of your team’s actual solution.”
Extracurricular activities are intended to supplement our student’s academic career and to provide opportunities that will benefit the students in their future endeavors. Leaders of these types of programs value the educational benefits that the programs provide and want nothing more than to provide a safe enriching environment that will lead to future success. General accusations suggesting that these leaders would disregard safe practices and would intentionally subject students to potentially dangerous situations are disrespectful and damaging.
2. Misleading Data Interpretation
The following data was presented to the school board by central office staff regarding the number of DI teams in Harford County during the past three years:
“2011-12: 18 HCPS teams; 50 parent led “community” teams
2012-13: 17 HCPS teams; 51 parent led “community” teams
2013-14: 20 HCPS teams; 20 parent led “community” teams.
When this information was presented to the Board, it was suggested that HCPS has remained supportive of DI and that the new procedures that were implemented this school year resulted in an increase in the number of teams. According to central office staff, the dramatic drop in DI participation was strictly due to some change that only impacted the “parent led community teams”.
This conclusion is a clear misrepresentation of the actual data. In actuality, HCPS sponsored all of the referenced DI teams in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. These HCPS sponsored teams were either managed by a volunteer or by an HCPS employee. For Monday’s meeting, central office only reported the teams that were managed by employees as HCPS teams. They referenced the other teams as “parent led community teams”, even though the teams were purchased with HCPS funds, were treated as official school teams as they competed, and were recognized by the Board of Ed for earning the honor of attending Global Finals.
For the 2013-14 school year, HCPS sponsored 20 teams, all of which were managed by HCPS employees. As a result of the new procedures, no parent volunteers were permitted to manage school teams, so many of the teams from previous years were forced to disband. The actual team numbers in Harford County are shown in Table 1.
Clearly, the information as reported by central office staff to the board members is misleading and misrepresentative of the actual impact of the new procedures on the DI program in Harford County. The real impact of the new procedures is 225+ students no longer have the opportunity to participate in DI.
3. Misleading Speculation for the Reduction in DI Participation
During the briefing, central office staff suggested that the reason for the reduced participation in DI was due to the elimination of stipends for parent volunteers. Their statements suggested that all parent volunteer DI team managers received stipends and that the reason that these team managers no longer volunteer is because HCPS eliminated the stipends this school year.
Although, some parent volunteers were paid stipends to manage DI teams, the majority of the volunteers were not paid. The reason that volunteers did not manage teams this year is because they were not allowed to manage teams and still be affiliated with the school. Most parent team mangers need some support from the school to assist with recruiting team members, fundraising, and providing workspace for the students. This year’s independent teams were comprised of veteran DI kids who were shunned by their schools and had to seek the DI experience on their own.
Not only would parents be willing to manage teams with no pay, they would be willing to pay for any expanded background checks or training that is required or offered by the county.
4. Lack of Involvement in Procedure Development
HCPS prides itself on the involvement of stakeholders in decision-making processes. During the briefing, both Board Member Thornton and Board Member Beverley questioned the central office staff regarding the involvement of DI representatives in the development of the procedures and the opinion of the DI community on the new procedures that were being presented.
Myself and another parent volunteer did have the opportunity to meet with central office staff in November before the review committee met to establish the latest procedures. At that meeting, we were provided with answers to questions regarding the procedures that were in place to regulate DI for this school year. We informed central office staff that the DI community was willing to work with the school system to determine a workable solution that would allow DI to continue in the schools and requested to be kept informed of the progress of the policy and procedure development. We were never again contacted by school personnel despite email requests and public statement requests for information and involvement.
I believe that the school system is offering a workable solution to accommodate DI in the schools. The DI community has a few concerns and would appreciate an opportunity to discuss the procedures with appropriate personnel. I will be sending these concerns directly to Ms. Wernig and Dr. Guilbault in the next few days.
Thank you for your continued support and consideration.