By Evelyn G. Aleman
As news of fentanyl overdoses by youth at local high schools reaches parents, and LA Unified begins to address what families have known for far too long – that drugs and violence are a problem in our schools, parents wonder why there continues to be a tendency by school authorities toward being reactive rather than proactive.
Every Friday afternoon more than a dozen Latinx immigrant parents meet on Zoom as members of the online parent group Our Voice: Communities for Quality Education, to discuss issues that concern them most about their children’s education. Whether the conversation begins with a discussion about the quality of instruction their children receive, needed resources for special education students or existing challenges in the ability to transition their English Learners to mainstream coursework, at the very top of the list is student safety.
Parents express frustration at their inability to have their concerns taken seriously by school officials. Their complaints about bullying on campuses too often go unheard and unaddressed, and concerns over vaping, smoking, and drug use are ignored – until it’s too late. For parents who experience a language barrier, this can be further frustrating, as it may be difficult to find a translator or an empathic school employee with the ability to help them get their message across effectively and obtain a timely and proper response.
When the situation heightens, many parents choose to move their children to a new campus where they hope things will improve, but there is never any certainty about this because they often find a “kids will be kids” school viewpoint no matter the school. Perhaps school leaders have too much on their plate, or perhaps this happens out of denial or a refusal to accept that activities such as bullying, vaping, smoking and drug use are taking place in schools — spaces that are supposed to be committed to offering students safe and drug-free learning environments. Whatever may be the case, this must change.
Quieting parent concerns, rather than adequately addressing these, hurts the community. Offering an annual student assembly about the dangers of smoking and drugs or about bullying, and a health class in high school that provides drug prevention education – when children at schools have access to illicit substances – won’t make these problems go away. Parents need a better plan from the district and proper engagement – respect – from school leadership.
The sole purpose of a school is to educate our children, who we entrust to its care. This means that these spaces must be free of violence and free of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit drugs so that our children are safe and free to learn and reach their full academic potential. Parents need more than words, they need action – preventive, proactive action at each grade level.
Evelyn G. Aleman is the founder of Our Voice: Communities for Quality Education.