In the wake of several disturbing incidents involving social media (mis)use by Westport students, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sends this message to parents:
One of the important, but unfortunate, roles of our school administrators is to address misconduct by students ranging from minor to extremely serious. We also address the impact of any misconduct on other students and the school community.
Since the start of this school year, we have addressed acts of bullying, threatening, harassment on the basis of protected classes, and in some cases, threats of violence and actual violence.
Our new reality is that most of the incidents stem from interactions among students over social media. Students are creating and circulating videos, exchanging text messages, or recording and sharing misconduct (i.e. bullying, threatening, violence, etc.) as it occurs in real time. This is highly disturbing, and disruptive to the school environment.
Students today have access to multiple social media platforms.
If your child has access to TikTok or other social media platforms, as most secondary, and some elementary students do, they have likely viewed such videos that have originated and been widely disseminated from students in Westport, and also from others across the country.
What’s problematic is that most of these incidents originate outside of school (i.e. at home, in the community, on weekends, etc.), yet these incidents have proven to have a significant negative impact on our students’ well-being and sense of safety, as well as the entire school environment.
As such, when these incidents occur, even if off campus, it is within the purview of the school district to administer consequences and seek restoration between students when appropriate.
You will likely hear about these unfortunate incidents. However, I want to caution that information you might hear in the community is not necessarily what we have found to have actually occurred following careful investigations.
Rumor and misinformation contribute to a climate of fear. There are very clear and rigid student privacy laws that the district must follow. We cannot share all information that occurs within the disciplinary matters the schools must address.
However, I can assure you that there are comprehensive processes in place to investigate and swiftly address these matters. Each of the incidents that has occurred this year, including those in the past month, has been handled in accordance with the district code of conduct, bullying and harassment laws, and other applicable laws.
Additionally, I can assure you that beyond consequences, the district aims to restore and provide supportive measures where appropriate. Whenever our students are affected by these incidents, we support them in a variety of ways. We strictly prohibit all forms of bullying, harassment, and hate-based conduct, and we are constantly working toward cultivating a school culture and environment that is safe and inclusive for all students.
These are top priorities for us at all times. However, at the present moment, these incidents have taken on a heightened significance as we confront international violence and atrocities that have affected many members of our community, both directly and indirectly.
We are addressing an increasing number of off-campus social media incidents. We cannot do this alone and need parental support. We ask that you are fully attuned to your child’s social media consumption and dissemination.
Any member of our school community who becomes aware of an act of bullying, harassment, violence, or threats should promptly report these concerns to their building principal, assistant principal, or other staff member. If you have media recordings we ask that you share them with the building administration to assist in our investigations. We take these matters extremely seriously, and we ask that our families serve as partners in helping us identify and prevent this conduct in school, out of school, and online.
Scarice also wants parents to know about an important upcoming event.
I am halfway through the book “Never Enough” by Jennifer Breheny Wallace. As a fellow parent, I give this book my highest recommendation to our parent community.
On Wednesday, November 15, at 7 p.m. in the Westport Library, Westport Together and the Library will host the author of “Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic—and What We Can Do About It.” I strongly encourage you to make time to attend.
Drawing on interviews with families, educators, and an original survey of nearly 6,000 parents, Wallace investigates the deep roots of toxic achievement culture and finds out what we must do to support our kids. She maintains that the pressure to perform is not a matter of parental choice but is baked into our larger society and the daily experience of families. As a result, she contends that children are increasingly absorbing the message that they have no value outside of their accomplishments, a message that is reinforced by the media and greater culture at large.
Today’s students truly face unprecedented pressure to succeed, however that is defined by families and society. Through deep research and interviews with today’s leading child psychologists, Wallace illustrates that what kids need from adults is not more pressure, but to feel like they matter, that they have intrinsic self-worth not exclusively contingent upon external achievements.
Wallace makes the case that parents and educators who adopt the language and values of “mattering” help children see themselves as a valuable contributor to a larger community. In an ironic twist, Wallace shares that kids who receive consistent feedback that they matter, no matter what, are more likely to have the resilience, self-confidence, and psychological security to thrive.
If you are concerned about these dynamics for your own child, or for the community, I strongly encourage you to join us on November 15 at 7 p.m. at the Westport Library.
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