The response from the school district concerning the assaults and possible racial undertones in the schools, which caused what has been called a "near-riot" on a school bus, does not seem adequate.
School officials have refused any comment on the incident, citing federal laws concerning the confidentiality of school records.
We understand the need to protect the children's privacy. That is an important function of the school district, but there is also a need to face the problem head-on and let the public know the problem is understood. As evidenced by the number of phone calls and e-mails that we receive, it is important for the school district to address the issue.
It is important for parents to know what is happening within the Payson school district. As a newspaper, we devote many resources to report about what kids are learning and what activities are taking place within the Payson district schools. In any given newspaper, readers will find stories about student-athletes, about school programs, honors the school and students have earned and much more. These are all what some people call positive or good news stories.
A school district reflects the community it serves, as does this newspaper. Payson is a great community, but there are also problems -- challenges, some people say -- that need to be addressed.
We must also report these challenges.
It is our responsibility to report that a middle school student was assaulted by another student. That early in this school year, a student was stabbed in a continuation of a bullying incident that had taken place on school grounds. And now we learn about a near-riot on a bus carrying elementary-age students that involved racial name calling between children.
As a result, a frustrated bus driver, who may have been trying to stop the incident, has been charged with aggravated assault for grabbing and shoving a child. The bus driver may or may not have gone too far, but that is for someone else to decide.
What bothers us most is that elementary-age students were yelling racial slurs and apparently caused a "near-riot," according to the bus driver.
Whoa!! Wake up. What is happening here?
It is not the school district's fault. The school district has some excellent and professional administrators and teachers who have the child's best interest at heart.
The school district is not teaching children to call others names. Just last week there was a CharacterCounts program for students. We have never heard a teacher tell students to call other students an unkind name. So where have these students learned this name-calling?
Could it be from adults within the Rim Country? Could it be that children are copying adult behavior, so maybe all this mess stems from the parents' need to take the CharacterCounts course, along with their sons and daughters? Now that would be an interesting community effort. Character and understanding comes from within the community. The school district should not be the sole source of information about what is right and wrong or what character is all about.
Parents need to teach their children that such behavior is not right; that just because some people have a different skin color, or different last names, they are really no different than anyone else.
On the other hand, the school district needs to ensure the public that it understands what is happening and is working toward educating students that the behavior that is taking place in the reported incidents is not acceptable and will not be condoned. The district needs to restore confidence that schools are safe for kids of all ages.
Payson is not the first to face such issues. The school district needs to face the underlying problems head-on and in a public manner, while turning the incidents into a learning experience. We, as a community, cannot hide our heads in the sand. We all must participate in the solution side by side with the school district.