Thursday, May 3, 2007

Gig Harbor students protest surveillance of two girls kissing

Posted at the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
Dozens of Gig Harbor High School students demonstrated outside the school Monday to protest an official's decision to show parents surveillance video of their daughter kissing another girl.

The controversy arose after the school's dean of students, Keith Nelson, saw the two kissing and holding hands and found video of it on the surveillance system. He showed it to the parents of one of the girls because they had asked to be kept apprised of her behavior.

The parents moved the girl to a different school district after watching it.

One student reporting the demonstration for the school paper, Amber Critchley, said the protesters believe it was an improper use of the surveillance video, which is primarily a security feature.

Classes continued during the disruption, said Principal Greg Schellenberg. He said he congratulated the students on holding a peaceful demonstration. The protesters wore T-shirts that said "free love" and waved peace signs.

Schellenberg agreed that it was wrong to show the surveillance video to the parents, and said that from now on school officials may only use the surveillance for security monitoring and discipline for actions such as trespassing, vandalism and fighting.

In a blog entry by Linda Thomas, at her "Educating Mom" blog, she makes an interesting comment:
I understand why parents of a Gig Harbor High School girl asked the school to examine surveillance tapes and help them spy on their daughter. What I don't get is why the school complied.

How did the story go from the parents asking their friend Keith Nelson who happened to be the dean of students at the high school at the time, to "alert them to any conduct by their daughter that was out of the ordinary", to asking the school to "examine surveillance tapes and help them spy on their daughter"? No one is reporting that the parents asked this of Nelson. Only that they had asked him to notify them of any "conduct that was out of the ordinary". Nelson volunteered the video.

If the parents had not reviewed the video, but Nelson had simply informed them of what they saw, would that have changed anything? I highly doubt it. Gig Harbor High School has since reassigned Nelson to another position and has implemented a new policy regarding the proper use of surveillance video.

It seems that the official stance of the high school is now to shelter the students from the discipline of the parents, even if the student's behavior goes against the school policy. In this case, there was a standing policy at the school against "kissing and other public displays of affection".

Ultimately, the responsibility for raising children lies with the parents. As parents, we often have to trust others with our children. If we cannot trust those in the care of our children to inform us of their behavior, then we need to bestow that trust on someone else or no one. I have no problem with the school policy limiting the use of the surveillance video, but I do have a problem with a school that will not inform parents of their child's behavior at their specific request. If you have a child in this school district, I would seriously consider whether or not they should remain there. Obviously, if your values are not the same as the values of the school administration, then they believe that you have no right to know if your child has done something that is against your values but not against theirs. This is especially concerning when your child is working to test the limits of your values and they believe that they have found an ally in their school. This will most likely cause a shift in loyalty towards those who are more likely support their behaviors.

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