School Board Mandates Changes Following SHHS Incident

School Board Mandates Changes Following SHHS Incident
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NEWARK – Revisions to the school system’s code of conduct and training related to explicit and implicit bias are expected to take place following an investigation by the Worcester County Board of Education into an incident at Snow Hill High School during the spring.

The school board last week announced that it had concluded its investigation into a March racially charged social media post at Snow Hill High School and administration’s reaction to the incident.

“The board has now concluded its internal review and thanks everyone affected by this incident for their patience in allowing the board time to meaningfully address this matter,” said Todd Ferrante, president of the board. “The board likewise thanks everyone it has heard from in this matter for their commitment to their children and the community to the Snow Hill High School and the entire school system.”

In early April, Superintendent Lou Taylor, Chief Safety and Operating Officer for Grades 9-12 Annette Wallace and Snow Hill High School Principal Kim Purvis joined a representative of the Tri-County Mediation Center at a church in Snow Hill for a discussion regarding a social media post made in March by members of the school’s baseball team. Purvis suspended three players — the one who created the post and the two who shared it — for a game. When Taylor became aware of the incident, however, he recommended the use of restorative circles, a technique that involves individuals talking openly and honestly together. Purvis subsequently felt when approached by executive team member Dwayne Abt she had to go that route rather than with the disciplinary action she’d initially handed the students.

“I was told and I quote ‘Dr. Purvis you don’t want something like this to tarnish your 30-year career,’” Purvis said at the church meeting. “That is what I was told. What do I do with that? I was also told ‘Dr. Purvis, I’ll be very honest with you. You can take this to the board but I don’t think the board will support you.’ So what decision was I to make?”

While Taylor said he was sorry for the missteps that had taken place and that the suspensions initially imposed by Purvis were eventually carried out, community members attended school board meetings throughout the spring to voice their continued frustration.  James Jones of the Caucus of African American Leaders of the Eastern Shore even sent officials a letter calling for the “immediate resignation or reprimand” of Taylor, who was described as “not fit to lead.”

Ferrante said during last week’s school board meeting that elected officials had spent the last several months conducting an investigation into the incident and would be mandating changes to ensure similar incidents were handled differently.

“The board takes this matter very seriously and it took its time to thoroughly look and understand what had occurred and how that occurrence was handled and what opportunities exist for improvement,” Ferrante said. “…the board understands the frustration and discontent that exists and shares the disappointment of many in how the matter was handled. It’s the board’s hope that the directives it provided to the superintendent will assist in better addressing any similar matter in the future.”

He said the board was directing Taylor to revise the code of conduct to specifically address social media and racially motivated behavior. He’s also been directed to develop a response plan for “how matters similar to this” will be handled in the future. The final directive from the board is for the superintendent to coordinate professional development related to explicit and implicit bias.

“The board understands that its directives contained herein are not going to fix every concern that may exist within the school system but it hopes by continuing to work together with the community it can continue to provide the best for the students and staff of Worcester County Public Schools,” Ferrante said. “We affirm our mission to provide a safe and welcoming learning experience for each and every student and staff member.”

As far as the initial incident involving the social media post, Purvis said this week she wanted students to be able to learn and grow in difficult situations.

“My position remains the same,” she said. “I want WCPS to continue to work toward ensuring that all students’ voices matter and that we follow the code of conduct with fidelity without regard to money, power or influence. Our students are resilient and it is our responsibility to help them learn and grow in adverse situations. I believe that the restorative practices that have been a consistent part of Snow Hill High School helped our students and staff heal from this tough experience.”

She also addressed the executive team’s actions following the incident.

“Although the investigation was conducted and the board promised steps towards a resolution, I can only hope that the executive leadership team will be more cohesive and reflective in their approach to handling sensitive issues and providing consistent support for school leadership,” Purvis said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.