Letter to TCSD from Parents of Students in TCSD - March 2021
Tunica County School District
744 School Street
Tunica, MS 38676
March 31, 2021
To Tunica County School District Leadership:
As a member of and advocate for the Parents of Students in Tunica County School District as well as a licensed mental health professional in the state of Mississippi, I am writing on behalf of more than 400 parents, guardians, and supporters of the school district to ask you to please listen, respond and communicate clearly and truthfully to us. We deserve your respect and cooperation as stakeholders in this public school district, and your failure to follow these tenets of your own educational code of ethics results in disparate outcomes for our children and families.
During Summer 2020, the Parents of Students in Tunica County School District was formed as a volunteer group of parents, guardians and supporters. We collectively work with the school district in making sure the priorities of safety, teaching and learning continue during the current pandemic and plan to continue parent and community engagement even beyond this difficult time in our world. There was no strategy or formal plan for the group at its onset. It was created because members of the group felt safer expressing their concerns in a private setting. Many of the members work in the school district or have family and/or friends who work in the district and fear that, if they speak their concerns publicly, their employment or the employment of their family and/or friends could be jeopardized. Thus, it was evident that the current district leadership had established a culture of fear among staff as well as among the community. Considering my employment status is independent from the district, I did not fear any retaliation and volunteered to advocate with others through this newfound parent community, which has grown to more than 400 members.
Our group’s efforts and intentions have consistently illustrated our desire to see our students and educators succeed during this most unprecedented time. From the onset, we had volunteers step forward to keep our community informed of the needs and concerns happening at each school and central office within the district. We have parent liaisons and/or key contacts established at every level of the district to ensure our parents and community remain aware of what we can do to support safety, teaching and learning at all times. We report to each other in our group and hold each other accountable to our common vision and goals. As such we have been influential partners and advocates for school safety, teaching and learning and have been instrumental during critical matters such as school registration, class attendance and parent meetings. Given the level of dedication to the school district we have displayed, we were appalled to learn on March 22, 2021, about the district leadership’s decisions that not only disregards our commitment to working together but delineates from the district’s focus on teaching and learning by removing all live instruction from virtual learners without explanation and without consideration from parents and community.
The district made no effort to involve parents in its decision to end live instructions during virtual learning and communicated in misleading and abusive ways in this matter through its repetitive and intrusive automated calls. The daily, repetitive calls and social media message from the district were all misleading since they did not state that virtual learners could continue attending school virtually but instead implied that all students were to return to in person instruction in its statement that … “Tunica County School District will provide in person instruction for all students effectively Wednesday, March 24, 2021…” This left the community confused about whether virtual learners could continue virtually. During a public meeting on March 23, 2021, hosted by Dr. Pulley, parents and community were not allowed to ask clarifying questions nor express concerns but were directed to contact school leadership instead; concurrently, attempts by parents and community to reach out to school and district leadership had been cut off by phone lines that were busy and/or unanswered. Dr. Pulley did state in this meeting that virtual learners could continue to attend school virtually but would no longer have live instruction. The district discontinued live instruction for virtual learners on March 24, 2021, with little and/or vague instructions to parents and community regarding next steps for these learners. As such, we have determined that: 1) the district is not focused on safety, teaching and learning for all of our students and 2) our relationship with the school district has now reached this critical juncture in which the lines of communication have become disrupted. We are deeply disappointed that our progress toward working together has been thwarted by leadership that has chosen to make decisions for our community rather than with us.
As a mental health professional, I am compelled to leverage what little power and/or privilege I might have to bring awareness to the increased anxiety that parents, students and community have had here under the current district leadership. Multiple accounts from staff, parents and community corroborate and provide narrative for how district leadership has not listened, responded and communicated clearly and truthfully to its stakeholders. These and other concerns have led to mistrust of the school district, which has been especially problematic while parents and guardians navigate the complexities of sending children into schools in a system whose district leadership seemingly disregards their voice and decisions.
Therefore, we, the Parents of Students in Tunica County School District, request immediately:
- An explanation for the decision to end live instruction for virtual learners that details how this decision prioritizes teaching and learning in a fair and equitable way, especially for students with underlying medical conditions;
- A copy of the most recent inspection report from each school which includes but is not limited to the status and availability of hot water in each building, status and ability to open windows in each room where students and staff are expected to gather and other general inspection report items;
- A copy of the school district’s plan for re-opening schools safely including but not limited to specifics on social distancing protocols throughout all school facilities and properties including classrooms, buses, and other spaces necessary for operations, details of your mask mandates, details of your safety compliance monitoring protocols and protocols for quarantining and returning to school when cases are confirmed; and
- A plan of action for Tunica County School District Leadership to honor and comply with Rule 14.18 Code of Ethics, which states among other things that ethical conduct includes a) “maintaining a professional relationship with parents of students and establish appropriate communication related to the welfare of their children,” b) “properly representing facts concerning an educational matter in direct or indirect public expression,” and c) “advocating for fair and equitable opportunities for all children.”
Your prompt attention to this matter is greatly appreciated. If we do not have a response that includes these requested items, which should all be already possessed by the district, by 3pm CT Friday, April 2, 2021, our next step will be to request these items from the Mississippi State Board of Education.
Monica L. Coleman, MS, PLPC, CRC, NCC, BC-TMH
On behalf of Parents of Students in Tunica County School District