Every day that a parent sends their child off to school, they do so under the assumption that their child will be treated with respect and kindness from their teachers and school staff. This expectation is even greater for students in special education programs, whose needs are unique and whose teachers should be prepared to meet those challenges.
When one teacher or staff member violates this trust, it can cast a negative light on an entire school or school district.
That is exactly what happened when staff in the special education department at Manor Heights Elementary were found exchanging text messages, photos and videos mocking their students.
The educators shared a photo of a child’s naked buttocks and said she should be hosed down because she was “filthy.” They took a video of a student behind a closed door asking to be let out. They encouraged one another to antagonize a student with behavioral issues and mocked the financial status of the mother of two children with autism.
If this is how these educators treated students behind their backs, it’s hard to imagine they were dedicated to meeting the children’s individual needs and helping them succeed in the classroom.
Was this an isolated problem? Or is it indicative of a larger problem among young educators who don’t have a clear understanding of the appropriate use of smartphones and social media when working with children? Regardless, something must be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Medical professionals swear oaths of ethical conduct regarding the treatment of their patients. These codes of ethics outline clear boundaries and expectations; they define right and wrong. Teachers should be expected to adhere to similar guidelines when it comes to the treatment of their students.
Ultimately, this is a teaching moment for the entire school district. The Natrona County school board has outlined a bullying policy that should extend to educators as well as students. And if there are teachers who don’t know that behavior like this — or even approaching it — is wrong, then that must be rectified.
The district employs roughly 2,000 teachers and staff, and we believe that most of them show up to work each day intending to make a positive impact in the lives of children. It’s not fair to allow a handful of bad actors to tarnish the community of learning and friendship they have built.
Another concern is whether or not the district would have acted decisively on these reports without media pressure. We know the teachers resigned last month; we don’t know what disciplinary actions were taken following the school’s investigation. We also know that the school failed to notify the parents of the victims.
Peer bullying is a problem in itself, and teachers bullying students is reprehensible. This issue needs to be addressed swiftly so parents and teachers can be confident that students walking through the doors of Natrona County schools are entering a safe, nurturing environment.
Editor’s note: Because of a conflict of interest, Star-Tribune editor Joshua Wolfson was not involved in the writing of this editorial. Kathy Best, the editor of the Missoulian in Montana, provided supervision for the story published Sunday.