Letter To The Signal Mountain Middle/High School Principal - And Response (5)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Dear Principal of SMMHS:

I need to speak with you, and possibly (The Chaperone) and (The Choir Director) as well. I find what happened on the Honor Choir Field Trip to Maryville College on Friday, November 16, 2012, to be appalling and, quite frankly, potentially very embarrassing for Signal Mountain Middle School. My daughter was very excited about both being in Honors Choir and excited about the field trip. Her Chaperone was (Name Omitted), whom I do not know. Apparently, after the rehearsal, the Chaperone took my child and some other children, to a restaurant to eat dinner. When they arrived at the restaurant, my daughter noticed that the restaurant was on CBL Properties. She mentioned to the Chaperone that both she and her friend (also present) were not allowed to be on CBL Properties. (My child has never been in trouble, nor is she a trouble-maker, but two weeks ago, she was at Northgate Mall, and she was wearing her "Heelie" shoes, which I am sure that you know are shoes with wheels. She ended up running into someone (no injuries or anything) and the Mall Officer told my daughter and her friend that they were banned from "all CBL Properties" for six months. This incident scared her and she took (and still is taking) that punishment seriously, as she should do with any punishment or mandate from an authority figure.) 

When she relayed this information to The Chaperone, the chaperone basically told my daughter that she just needed to go in the restaurant because the ban was ridiculous and there is no way they would get caught. Well, my daughter was then in a dilemma because she had already been told by one authority figure just two weeks ago that she was NOT to be on CBL Properties, and now she was being directly told by another to disregard that. She called me, very upset, and I told her to have the Chaperone call me so that I could explain this to her in a reasonable manner and that I would look into exactly what the ban covered, and we, as adults, would be able to straighten out the entire matter. I expected a call back from the chaperone, since this was really a minor issue at this point, but never did receive a call from the Chaperone. My daughter called me again, crying and very upset, and told me that the Chaperone had called her and her friend "a mess" and that she was not going to chaperone them. I told my daughter to have the chaperone call me, again, and she said she would, but the Chaperone told my child that she was just going to let the Choir Director call me instead.

Then, after several minutes, the Choir Director finally called me. The tone that she used had at the very start of the call was rude, loud and emotional. It was apparent that she was already mad, and started off the conversation exactly like this:

"Well, I've got some bad news for you. You need to come pick up your daughter right now. She is insubordinate and refused a direct command from my chaperone to do something. My Chaperone will not chaperone her. Come get her now, or else I am calling "juvie" (juvenile hall) to come pick her up because she does not have a chaperone. She has wasted my time and ruined my dinner and ruined my chaperone's dinner. You need to come get her now." NOTE THAT ALL OF THIS WAS SAID IN FRONT OF MY CHILD, WHO IS TEXTING ME, ASKING ABOUT “JUVIE” AND VERY UPSET.

Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked and asked the Choir Director to tell me exactly what my daughter had said and explain exactly how she had been insubordinate. All the Choir Director said to me was that my daughter had denied a direct command and that she was not a representative of Signal Mountain Middle School and made the "juvie" threat again. I tried to explain about the CBL ban and its parameters, but the Choir Director was not in any position by that time to even listen rationally to me.

This whole matter could have been easily averted if the Chaperone had just called me when my daughter rightfully told her about the CBL Property matter. If she had called me, I could have explained that to her, and looked into whether the ban applied to all properties, or just those in this area. If it didn't apply to all properties, then I would have told my child that she was fine to go in. If it did apply to all properties, then I would think that the Chaperone would have just picked another restaurant. But, she never called me. 

Then, if the Choir Director had then taken a minute to calm down before calling me, I could have explained the matter to her, and they would have either gone into the restaurant if the ban did not apply to other areas, or gone somewhere else. It really was made a much larger deal that it needed to be, and all my daughter was doing was 1) honestly telling the chaperone about the "ban" and 2) obeying what she had been told by the Northgate Mall Officer. For an adult, who is representing Signal Mountain Middle School, to tell her to basically ignore that ban was irresponsible and very confusing to a 13 year-old child. All this really shows is that my child IS an honest child, who took very seriously the words and warning of the Mall Officer and told the chaperone about the ban, which is what she should have done.

Then, for the Choir Director to yell at me, in front of my child, and threaten to leave her in Maryvile with "Juvie" is incredibly frightening to a child.  

All of this is very upsetting and sad and it is a shame. I asked the Choir Director for the Chaperone's full name (which she still has not told me herself, and I had to find out from my child) and your contact information, which she never did provide to me.

So, essentially, what you have on your hands is a chaperone who 1) quit her job in the middle of the field trip, 2) told my child to disregard a mandate from an officer, and 3) failed to call me directly to check out exactly what the CBL ban included. Then, you have a Choir Director who heard the story from one source (the Chaperone) and made up her mind, and then called me angry and made scary threats in front of my child, causing my child to be fearful and scared and alone. 

I hate for Signal Mountain Middle School to have any additional negative publicity, but I am appalled by what happened.

I would like to have an in-person meeting to discuss this. I have no other way to contact you except through your work telephone number and this email. Please contact me either by email or my cell phone. 

Thank you for your attention to this.

Lucy C. Wright
UPDATE: I had my meeting, finally, and SMMHS gave my child a write-up and refused to acknowledge they any of the adults did anything wrong at all. On the flip side, the ban has now been lifted because Northgate/CBL apparently got wind of this situation and felt proud of my daughter for taking the ban so seriously to the point where she would get in trouble at school, so they decided to lift the ban.

Lucy C. Wright
Attorney at Law
4200 Brainerd Road

* * *

Dear Attorney Wright:

Kudos to your daughter for (1) earning a spot in the Honor Choir and (2) demonstrating good character and responsibility in her concern that she abide by the order of the CBL Mall Officer banning her from all CBL properties for six months.  None of us is perfect, and your daughter showed great maturity in taking responsibility for her prior error in judgment at Northgate by seeking to "do the right thing" on the field trip.  I, too, am sad and disappointed that the adults on the trip chose to disregard your daughter's concerns.  

However, given that your daughter was "operating under these constraints," I wonder why you did not take the time to give written notification of that fact to the trip/choir director and chaperones prior to the trip?  Most likely you never thought it would be an issue - I do understand that - but it became one that possibly could have been avoided.

You may not be aware that SMMHS has an excellent, regularly-updated website (http://www.signalmountainhighschool.com/) that lists not only the NAME but also the email address of SMMHS Principal Robin Copp (under the "Staff" tab across the top of the website).  The next time you need to email Principal Copp, this is an easy way to do it without the need to utilize public media.  I myself have always found Ms Copp to be quite responsive to any concerns I have emailed to her. 

Middle school is a tough age, and not all parents share the same parenting or even life values.  We parents assume a risk when we permit our middle schoolers to go on field trips chaperoned by adults who are unknown to us.  I am sorry that this trip worked out the way it did, but I applaud your daughter for trying to do the Right Thing.  There is an important and positive lesson here for her.

Lisa Smith 

* * *

Mrs. Wright, 

I just read your letter to the principal of SMMHS and I must admit that I am scratching my head a little here. I frequently read these posts and have never had an urge to write a response until I came across yours. 

Call me old fashioned, but I believe when you have a problem with someone, you go to them directly and address it. You said that you had no way to contact the principal? Really? Seeing that you are an attorney, I must respectfully say that I would assume that you had the common sense to at least google it. Or maybe even go old school and look in the phone book. Or even go by there and try to make an appointment before you post this in front of the world. 

Of course I have no connections with SMMHS. I was not on that field trip, so I do not really have a dog in this hunt. However, before I left to stay home with my children I was a school counselor. I can say with that school administrators will give every reasonable effort to work to address problems when they are approached directly and professionally. A letter to the editor is not only distasteful, but in this case you have done your part to "publicize" this incident and bring poor attention to the school, just what you apparently "did not" want in the first place. For future reference, please go directly to the principal, if you are still dissatisfied after communicating with her, you can address the middle school director by calling central office. 

I am glad CBL lightened up on your daughter. Just in time to get her shopping done! 

Also, to the editor, kudos to you for omitting the name of the choir director. 

Jennifer Rimback

* * *

Lisa’s response reads like the HCDE public relations talking points held in a file reserve for HCDE, when they fail to respond or act appropriately to situations for middle school students.  Oh, it is never the school’s fault.

In 2007, I filed a formal complaint to the State of Tennessee Department of Education, because the school system lost the education plans for an entire special education class, mostly Autistic spectrum children, and failed to implement provisions of the plan for my son.

Of course, the  HCDE responses to my complaint were always riddled with marginalizing me as a parent, and redirecting from HCDE’s monumental disregard for following the Individuals Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Sadly, HCDE only responds to lawsuits.

Interestingly enough, my own child was in middle school in 2007, and the responses of Ms. Lisa are exactly how the HCDE responded to my complaint. To me, HCDE is comical and very predictable at this point. They always 1) minimize the seriousness of their own actions or lack thereof, 2) redirect blame on the parents, and 3) characterize middle school as a tough time for parents. Blah Blah Blah.

The fact is there was unprofessional conduct from staff and disregard for the concerns raised by the student who was respecting the terms set forth by CBL. 

HCDE’s arrogance of power never ceases to amaze me.

HCDE needs to own up to their errors and people will respect and trust their word.  

April Eidson 

* * *

I know Lucy Wright and know first-hand what happened because I spoke to her several times over that weekend.  She did email the principal over that weekend and did not hear back.  She was trying to keep it private.  The replies from both Ms. Smith and Ms. Rimrack above are not based on informed information and do sound like canned responses from someone connected to HCDE or the school.  The incident occurred on a Friday night and calling the school would not have done any good BECAUSE IT WAS CLOSED.   So, she emailed.  She also asked the chorus lady for better contact information for the principal.  The chorus lady refused to give any information and would not even contact Lucy back.  Then, the principal met with Lucy's child alone on Monday morning, and did not even notify Lucy in advance of this meeting even though she knew that a meeting had been requested from the 2 emails that Lucy had sent.   What was the purpose of that?  Why wouldn't she notify her in advance?   That is crazy.  Also, the letter that Lucy posted here was not posted or made public until AFTER the meeting had occurred and nothing had been accomplished.  I just hope the school prohibits the chaperone from chaperoning any future events since she apparently cannot handle the job.  At least I hope that they spoke to her about how to better handle these type situations in the future.  

Roberta Deacon

* * * 

Assuming what Ms. Deacon said is correct (that the letter was posted on the Chattanoogan website only after numerous failed attempts at contacting the principal), I see no problem with utilizing a public forum to have her voice heard.  It seems to me that the powers that be need to have a serious talk with the adults involved in this incident.  

Additionally, I believe the principal would have been better served to have delayed any punishment until after a joint meeting with everyone involved, parent included—that is the only way to ensure getting the most accurate picture of what truly happened. To hand down punishment without all voices being heard is truly negligent.  

Is it possible that Ms. Wright’s daughter could have handled the situation better? Perhaps, but one cannot say for certain without having been there or knowing what she told her mom, and besides, one cannot reasonably expect a middle school student to handle that particular situation much better than the way Ms. Wright’s daughter did.  

On the other hand, (provided that Ms. Wright was completely forthright in her letter), the chaperone and Choir Director most certainly should have handled this situation better. No one expects middle school kids to act like adults—that’s why they have chaperones. Adults, however, should act like adults, especially when they are chaperoning kids. Everyone knows that kids at that age can be difficult to deal with. That being said, if the chaperone couldn’t handle the situation as described by the mother, she had no business acting as such in the first place. Had the chaperone used simple common sense and logic, this would have been a non issue—I cringe when I think what could have resulted had a more serious issue presented itself.  

One thing is for certain, and this holds true even if Ms. Wright left out some details: A chaperone should absolutely never refuse to speak with the parent of a child that said chaperone is supervising. The fact that this chaperone refused to take the mother’s call is also negligent, and a glaring sign that she does not have the level of maturity required to be a chaperone, especially considering the child’s age. It’s very possible there was a disconnect between what the child was telling the chaperone regarding her CBL properties ban, and what the chaperone understood. If this were the case, the mother would have undoubtedly been much more able to effectively convey this message. Unfortunately, the chaperone decided the parent wasn’t worth her time. After all, she was “only” responsible for Ms. Wright’s daughter—no big deal, no reason to speak with her. Thank God it wasn’t more serious. 

Kudos to Ms. Wright’s daughter for doing the right thing. It’s a shame she ended up getting punished for doing so. Let this be a life lesson to her: Life isn’t always fair, not even when you do what is right. 

Also, kudos to CBL properties for lifting what sounds like an unnecessary ban in the first place, most likely a knee-jerk reaction by the security guard. Mistakes happen; they don’t always require punishment. 

Dallas Cole

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