Snitches, Lies and Spies. Oh, my!
The Wellesley Public Schools (“WPS”) has instituted a policy prohibiting the use of certain words, claiming that use of those words indicate impermissible bias. Training materials for WPS teachers and staff provide an example of an offending remark as “the principal is crazy.” Students are encouraged to anonymously report other students for using terms allegedly indicating bias. There is no specific list of what constitutes an offending word; no one is on notice of what indicates bias and what does not. WPS will then take action against the offender (the goal is to do so within ten days). The reporter is promised and provided with confidentiality if he or she does not report anonymously. The alleged offender is not promised any similar protection. Students who violate the policy face potential “discipline, including detention, suspension, or other restorative responses that require them to acknowledge their responsibility and minimize its impact.” (Emphasis added.)
What should be especially troubling to all parents is the school system forcing “restorative responses” that require acknowledgement of responsibility. Those words are synonymous with the words “forced confessions.” If the school thinks your child said something it does not approve of, it will have the option of forcing your child to “acknowledge their responsibility.” What if your child denies saying anything wrong? What if the person who reported your child misheard them?
Each school has a dedicated enforcer of the bias policy. Claims of bias are directed to that person, and that person alone decides the child’s fate. Again, there is no list of prohibited words to which the person can refer for guidance concerning whether a violation has occurred. Therefore, that person’s opinion is the only method used to determine whether an alleged offender has violated the policy. This issue is important because the bias policy operates directly in contradiction to notions of justice and fair play, for it functions on a whim with unwritten definitions of violations. Our justice system is based on laws which are written into statutes. Citizens therefore are “on notice” of what is permissible from a criminal liability standpoint and what is not. However, in the public school system there is no such ability for a person to make such a determination. A person has no ability to make an informed judgment. Instead, an offense is determined solely by one person without any reference to a specific list of rules or offenses.
Therefore, if this one person in this one school opines that what your child allegedly said is wrong, your child can be suspended or coerced into making certain statements. The child can be forced to confess something that they may never have said. As a parent, please consider whether you think that forcing a confession out of your child is acceptable and whether that force is the kind of power you want the school to have over your child and your child’s future. Reference is made here to your child’s future because if your child is forced to confess, WPS could inform your child’s chosen college admissions director of the confession and the so-called offensive speech. The college could deny your child admission – or withdraw an already-granted admissions offer, altering the child’s future permanently.
Please remember and consider that this is speech that an anonymous informer claimed to have heard. No recording, no transcript, no testimony, no witness, no affidavit or similar sworn statement is required. It is sufficient for someone simply to claim that offending speech was overheard. That is all that is required under this policy – a simple allegation of speech. There is a strong possibility that false accusations will be made. What if someone is angry with your child and turns them in for saying something they never said? Children can be impulsive. Children make mistakes. Children are children. This policy applies to all children – not just high school students but elementary students and toddlers at PAWS.
Further, not only are the children being targeted, but this policy applies to anyone in the community — not just students. So, just to be clear, parents are also at risk. The policy provides that if a parent commits any offense, he or she can be banned from any school property indefinitely. While you are chatting with your friend at a Little League game, be sure you don’t call anyone who is affiliated with WPS in any capacity “crazy.” Otherwise, someone could hear you and report you to the authorities. You might be banned from picking up your child from school for their remaining years in the WPS system and banned from their sports games, plays, graduation ceremonies. If your boss hears about your offensive bias remark, you could be fired. Your whole life could be turned upside down by calling the principal crazy. Although this seems outlandish, there have been many widely reported instances of people being fired (or to use a current term, canceled) because of something said that was considered offensive.
There is no right to counsel under this policy. There is no right to confront one’s accuser. There is no right to a trial by one’s peers. Everything used against you or your child is classic hearsay. And the determination is made by one person. You have no recourse. No appeal. No power at all to help your child or yourself. You are at the mercy of an unmerciful system.
The policy is a mandate. If a staff member thinks they overheard a word that is inappropriate under the bias policy, they have no choice but to file a report. They are not allowed to use their discretion, meaning that if they think they may have missed some context, or if they are unsure of what they heard is accurate, they have no choice but to make a report. Otherwise, they could face discipline. But what if they’re wrong? And what if the only person to hear of the alleged remark was that one staff member, meaning that no one was actually offended? Under the current policy, a child can still be forced to confess, disciplined and/or suspended regardless whether any harm actually came to anyone else.
Another problem that arises from policies such as this one is that inevitably it is not equally applied. Although WPS claims that it applies for the benefit of people who belong to groups that have been historically marginalized by society, it prioritizes certain groups over others. WPS has refused to initiate investigations when approached from people who claimed that certain school activities and/or personnel presented bias to them. Students and parents who are of historically marginalized groups (either ethnically or otherwise) have been denied the ability to bring complaints of bias. According to the policy’s definition, the groups of which these citizens belong are all within the bias policy’s applicable sphere. Yet, WPS has refused to allow members of such groups to access the policy. The issue here is not even related to whether anyone was eventually disciplined in response to the complaints or whether the complaints were even investigated. Members of those communities were not even permitted to make an allegation. Their access to bias reporting forms were denied. Such treatment only marginalizes those people and groups even further.
In essence, WPS is attempting to turn schoolchildren into informants. WPS’ bias policy will breed lies, fear, submission, wrongdoing and, potentially, psychological trauma. The long-term consequence of the policy is that children (and parents) will be constantly afraid and refuse to speak to each other for fear of being turned in to the authorities. If this policy is not dismantled, solid advice for any student would be not to speak in class, or to teachers, friends, or even the school nurse. Parents would be well-advised not to speak to other parents in the car line or at sports events or at any event whatsoever. This policy is dangerous to every family.
Questions to consider:
1. What is the purpose of the public school system?
2. What kind of power should the public school system have over children, their futures and their families?
3. Should the school be a place of safety and refuge for children, or a place of informants and spies?
4. Do we want all children to be free of bias or only certain children?
5. Should people have the freedom to think for themselves?
6. Is it important that people have notice of what constitutes a wrong?
7. Is a person’s intent important?
8. How reliable are people’s allegations?
9. Is there only one side to every story?
10. Is it acceptable that our children could be used as informants against their own friends, peers, parents or siblings?
11. Where are the members of the School Committee, and why are they not protecting our children?
The Wellesley School Committee Must Require That The Bias Policy Be Stopped and Withdrawn Immediately
Please sign the petition today!
Repeal the Bias Policy at Wellesley Public Schools!
Total Signatures: 6
Deadline: March 1, 2022
This petition is now closed.
End date: Mar 01, 2022
Signatures collected: 6
Signature goal: 500
Signature goal: 500
“Enriching our brains with new and valuable information improves our ability to think, analyze, and process the world around us. Education is important because it broadens our knowledge, and this knowledge then opens our minds to new perspectives, ideas, beliefs, and cultures.”
Wellesley Concerned Parents