Driving parents crazy

About fifteen years ago my friend lost her daughter in an accident. Often when you meet people who have lost a child, they have a sense of tragedy floating about them. Not with LD. You would never know it if you met her. She is friendly, funny and kind. She gives selflessly and I am more than fortunate to have been the recipient of her generosity. She has been the Head Honchess of the Girl Scouts for this section of Bridgewater - one of the most thankless jobs on Planet Earth! In addition, she has two daughters, a husband and juggles several jobs! An all-around good egg, indeed.

So it was a little insulting that her comments at the Board of Ed last night were so misconstrued. Wonder what she said exactly? You can click here to replay last night's meeting. (Audio recording, September 13th, part 2, approximately 1 hour and 3 minutes into the recording).

If you don't feel like downloading the file and listening to the meeting, here is the Readers' Digest version: LD informed the Board of several very dangerous incidents involving her children and bus drivers. Each time she went through the proper channels only to be disappointed by the nonchalance of the Transportation Department's response. Last week she had another incident where a supervisor (she didn't say if he is the top manager and I don't recognize the name) left his office to rescue her daughter and a neighbor after the bus driver couldn't find the Middle School. She blamed the problem on the fact that the driver couldn't read the slip the girls showed, to confirm they were on the right bus, and then didn't have the English proficiency required to understand the girls. The Superintendent replied with "you don't need to speak English to drive a bus" (I'm paraphrasing). But you DO need the basics language skills to communicate with the children on the bus. His response came off as a CYA tactic so people wouldn't think he's advocating hiring English native speakers over foreigners.

Having been an immigrant in a foreign country, I know all too well the pressures of functioning (or not) in a foreign language. When I was in college, I had a panic attack when I had a short-term gig as a nanny, abroad: I was in Europe and the mother (in her mother tongue, not in mine) that explained that her daughter had slept over at a relatives, but I didn't understand her. (I'm sure I said yes when she asked me "do you understand?"). When I saw the daughter wasn't in her bedroom I freaked out! I learned something that day: you can't replace basic communication skills. I could play with her children, feed them, change diapers, bathe them, take them for walks, and do all the things a good babysitter does - but if I couldn't understand basic explanations by my employer, how could I manage in my job? I lasted a week.

Of course you don't need much English to drive a bus. But you DO need English to understand directions, rules and to speak with the children who are in your care. Communication skills are vital on a bus, as a lot of "social incidents" happen during that time when kids are between the school's jurisdiction and the rule of Mom and Dad. Kids often feel most vulnerable on the bus. But even moreso, if bus drivers (or kids) are lost, or there is an accident, communication is key. When I was a child our school bus had an engine fire... it was probably the most traumatic incident I ever had in school.

I am not advocating racist practice in hiring, but I do believe that every single employee of the district should be able to communicate with children. In fact I believe that kids should have contact with people who aren't like them at school.

And I also believe that when parents communicate their concerns to the District, the District should show their ability to listen, process the information, and act in a correct manner. Just as I said blindly "I understand" all those years ago when I didn't, the District should not just say "we understand" when they don't.

And more than that: they should care enough to make improvements - even if it is easier to just say yes, and move on to the next complaint. More parents need to come forward with their issues. But they don't - and based on hearing stories like LD's I can't say I blame them! Sometimes it isn't a language barrier - it's a listening barrier.


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