School district leaders are failing to protect students

CH-UH teachers and building-level staff provide our community’s children with a nurturing, comprehensive education. While the pandemic forced our school district to re-think public education, the pandemic cannot be an excuse for long-standing problems.

Since August 2020, a group of 500-plus CH-UH school district parents and staff have collaborated to share information, and communicate issues to our elected and paid district leaders.

In 170-plus pages of routine reports, we have documented an array of community concerns and begged for solutions. We convened forums, spoke at school board meetings, and regularly communicated with leadership to activate change. Most of these issues remain unaddressed, leaving students unprotected in myriad ways.

Frustrated students, parents, staff, and community members (among them some of the 500-plus) want district leadership—to whom we entrust the care of our children—to actively study and fix persistent systemic problems, including:  

  • Inadequate response to student-to-student sexual assault and bullying, across buildings. (In public comments at the Dec. 21 and Jan. 4 board of education meetings, students, an alum, and others spoke about the dress code, rape culture and mishandling of a case. In two protests, one in December, the other on March 10, hundreds of students rallied outside Heights High, sharing their experiences of sexual harrassment and assault, and their outrage at administrative mishandling.)
  • Safety/facility issues, including unmonitored locations and inadequate classroom space despite renovations. 
  • Insufficient instructional quality and exclusion from building-related resources for online learners.
  • Opacity about COVID relief funds and their use. With unprecedented federal funding for schools via ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds, it is unclear how this one-time $17 million is being spent. Meanwhile, our buildings are understaffed, pandemic precautions falter, and mandated services are insufficient.
  • Inadequate enforcement of the Title IX mandate to ensure a learning environment that is safe from sexual harassment.
  • Mismatch between Code of Conduct, International Baccalaureate principles, and actual discipline practices.
  • Disconnected communication and decision-making between district administrators and building-level leadership/teachers.
  • Disproportionate legal fees for the district’s size.

We expect solution-focused action. Yet, at a time when increased stakeholder input would serve public interest, the school board is enacting a policy that will inhibit public comments, like its recent refusal to add reasonable accommodations (Zoom or phone access) to allow public comment by those unable to attend in-person meetings.

Schools are the crux of a community’s well-being. If our leadership continues to ignore these problems, other citizens must step up and run for school board.

In the meantime, it is time for our Cleveland Heights and University Heights city councils to get involved and investigate these pivotal issues, especially school safety and fund distribution. 

Given the district leadership’s persistent silence in response to written and in-person requests for help, I feel it is my civic duty to apprise this community of the inner workings of a beloved system that has been and actively is being mismanaged. Our children deserve better. 

Shari Nacson

Shari Nacson is a mom, social worker, and editor who is co-administrator of a Facebook group for families and educators who collaborate to optimize CH-UH student experiences during pandemic times. She spoke at the Oct. 5, 2021, CH-UH school board meeting, asking the district to respond to, and work to solve, the 170-plus pages of concerns mentioned in this opinion.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 12:23 PM, 03.14.2022