Friday, June 13, 2014

How not to respond to a parent concern

A report from a parent at another school: A student was injured at football practice and his head hit the ground, hard. When he got up, he told the teacher he felt dizzy. The published policy says that in such a case, depending on severity either the student should be sent accompanied to the nurse or the student should not be moved and the nurse summoned. Instead, the teacher told him to "walk it off". That night, the student went by ambulance to the ER and a mild concussion was diagnosed.

So the parent met with the principal. She told him what her son said to her, her husband, the ER doctor and the neurologist. All four accounts on the day of the incident were consistent. She said this time, all was fine, but she felt the principal should confirm all PE staff and coaches attended concussion-awareness training and the already established policy on head-related incidents must be followed.

She heard nothing for about 10 days so she emailed the Principal for an update. The next day, the Principal interviewed the student, almost two weeks after the fact. Strangely, the boy had little memory of what happened the day of the accident. He did not remember what happened the next day either. He also failed a math test the next day, the first time in his academic life. This is not surprising. He had had a concussion.

This is where it goes downhill. The Principal emailed the mother and told her the PE teacher said the student did not say anything to him. He said he knows the teacher and knows he is honest and so he knows that is the truth. Oh and the by the way, your son misbehaved at an assembly today so he is clearly not a credible student.

So in one email, the Principal called the student a liar, or the parent a liar for misreporting what had occurred, or the student a troublemaker or the parent a problem. Instead of de-escalating the situation, he not only escalated it but he turned it into a battle and raised questions about his competence. If he really wanted to enter the "he said / she said" arena, he should have taken the misunderstanding approach. He should never have mixed together the injury incident with possible misbehavior in assembly. A formal complaint to the superintendent about this Principal is in the works.

Instead, he should have empathized with the parent. He should have agreed that incidents involving the head are serious. He should have checked PE teachers and coaches do attend concussion-awareness training. He should have reviewed the policy on head-related incidents with PE teachers and coaches.

This is likely to get worse for him, his career and the school. It has the potential for lawsuit written all over it. My advice to all administrators and all teachers is to remember parents love their children. Educators should use that to get parents on their side. They should never challenge it.

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