Report recommends cameras in classrooms
Staff at the Lighthouse special needs school were sent for “sensitivity training” after it emerged they had engaged in a game of impersonating their students.
The game, at a parent-teacher event, was just one aspect of a broad complaint alleging a pattern of under performance at the school over a number of years, including lack of student supervision and poor leadership.
Education officials have promised sweeping changes after an internal investigation, including staff and parent surveys, substantiated some of those concerns.
The investigators recommended surveillance cameras be installed in classrooms to monitor the safety and security of students and a “support plan” be developed for the school.
Education officials acknowledged concerns first arose from a parent’s complaint about an “activity where teachers were encouraged to compete by performing their impressions of individual students, with a prize for the best impression.”
When questioned during the investigation, staff at the school acknowledged the game took place during a parent-teacher appreciation event in 2013, saying it was an annual tradition. But they insisted there was no mockery of student disabilities, just imitations of “catchphrases and characteristic behaviors.”
According to the wider investigation report, compiled late last year and passed to the Compass last week, the complaint about the impersonation game was investigated by a senior school improvement officer.
“He concluded that, although distasteful to some attendees at the event and in his opinion ill-advised, there was no indication that the activity had been undertaken in a derisory or mocking spirit.
“He very strongly advised the principal that no such activity should be undertaken in the future and pointed out that the very fact that a concern had been raised indicated that it was offensive to at least some stakeholders.”
Kent McTaggart, the parent who brought the complaint, said he was shocked that staff would think it was appropriate to impersonate students.
He said the incident was just one example of a general lack of sensitivity and care for the students from some staff at the school.
Mr. McTaggart, who has a son at the school, said he had sent hundreds of texts, emails and Facebook messages to education leaders, including Minister Tara Rivers, but believes the response had not been adequate.
Education officials told the Compass they had put in place a “rigorous school support plan” and were working on a national policy for video cameras in schools before putting cameras in the classroom.
They also confirmed that head teacher Carla McVicar has retired from the post, effective September this year, though they did not link this directly to the complaints.
A series of surveys with parents and teachers at the school were carried out in late 2014, following the complaint from Mr. McTaggart.
The surveys indicated a majority of respondents raised serious concerns about the “respect, care and understanding” afforded to students, with most indicating that staff lacked sensitivity to the physical and emotional needs of children in the school.
The report adds, “There is evidence arising from the investigation that both staff and parents feel that supervision of students is not always consistent. This is a matter of serious concern, given the nature of the school.”
The report also raised concerns about high levels of staff absenteeism, which it says adds to the challenge of providing the necessary levels of supervision.
Almost a third of those who participated in the surveys suggested students were treated roughly and with disrespect by some staff members.
“There is a critical concern that the treatment of students by staff in the school does not consistently match the professional standards established by the Department of Education Services and the Ministry of Education. There is at least some indication that staff members themselves are concerned about this issue,” the report notes.
It adds, “There is a majority view by stakeholders that students are not consistently treated with respect and care and may be treated roughly and inappropriately by some staff members.”
The report concludes that the leadership and management of the school needs considerable external support to address multiple issues of concern. It recommends a written school support plan be adopted, additional training be arranged for staff and separate reviews of management structures and staff assignments take place to ensure proper supervision of children.
It adds, “The Department of Education Services should take steps to investigate the feasibility of installation of security cameras to monitor the safety and security of students within Lighthouse School.”
Mr. McTaggart acknowledged that his complaint had been investigated but claims he has yet to see any signs of improvement at the school and no cameras in classrooms.
“We wish we could say that the recommendations in the report were being implemented and making great changes, however we simply don’t know the specifics of the School Support Plan, as stated we would in the final recommendation in the report. What I can say is any progress made to date was most likely to placate the irate. I personally don’t believe the powers that be really get it. It is the difference between empathy and sympathy.”
“The Lighthouse School needs to be staffed by sensitive, compassionate, well trained and qualified individuals without exception,” Mr. McTaggart said. “The management and administration of the school must be removed from the Department of Education and put in the hands of an entity that can react to the dynamic nature and needs of the kids it serves.”
Annita Cornish, senior policy advisor and manager at the Ministry of Education, said action had been taken including various training sessions for staff, establishing a new behavior intervention team, introduction of a new supervision roster and improved procedures for monitoring staff absenteeism.
“We were obviously concerned about the seriousness of the issues raised in the complaint and ensured that they were adequately addressed through a rigorous support plan.”
She said the ministry was in the process of developing “best practice” guidelines on safety and privacy before introducing cameras at the school and would consult with parents and staff once the guidelines had been approved.