Monday, January 11, 2016
Dear Alamo Heights families, friends, community members and staff,
The past week has been an incredibly sad time in our community. Words can’t fully express the tremendous sorrow I feel for the Molak family. I met David on his first day of Kindergarten at Howard and watched him grow up in our community and schools since then. David was a beautiful human being, and his loss will have a lasting impact on everyone. Please continue to lift up this family, as well as those closest to David, in your thoughts and prayers.
Thank you to everyone who has showered the Molak family with love and support. The huge attendance and spirit of love present at his funeral was overwhelming. Thank you, too, for the words of support and comfort to our students and staff. This means more to us than you may ever know.
Last week our first priority was helping our students. I am so thankful for the outpouring of love and support that our teachers, counselors and administrators provided students and staff at school. Thank you to our staff for selflessly setting aside your own grief and emotions during this difficult time to show compassion for our children and each other.
The staff members from area churches have also been quite supportive of our students and families during this time, and I am so grateful for their wisdom and sense of caring and compassion. Also, many in our community had a prayer walk around the perimeter of the high school yesterday. Thank you.
Over the course of this past week, we have had numerous inquiries about this tragedy, what happened, and how we are dealing with it, and this lengthy communication is aimed at helping to share as much information as we can with you.
Here are some answers to many of the inquiries we have received:
What has the district done to assist children last week?
The crisis team of counselors and administrators immediately began working with children. Many students walked into the counseling offices on their own accord, but counselors also made many initial contacts with students and parents. Teachers watched for students in need of support and allowed them to leave class if they needed. We will continue to offer services to any student who is in need for as long as necessary. If you are concerned about any child, please contact the AHHS counseling office at 832-5775 or 832-5759.
Can you tell us what happened?
Due to Federal Law that protects all of our students, we are limited by what we are able to publicly share, but we know that the community is seeking information and answers.
In October, there was a student issue brought to the district’s attention, one that occurred on campus and another that occurred off campus. It is possible that other incidences could have occurred, but these were the first and only incidences that were brought to our attention involving these students.
The situation was investigated promptly. At that time, disciplinary actions were taken. Parents were contacted, students were counseled, and consequences were given to some, including removal from campus. At that time, all parties indicated that they were supportive of the campus decisions. Since October 2015, until this past week, no further reports of bullying among these students were received.
At this time, there is an ongoing police investigation, and they are not able to share any information with the district. We will fully cooperate with the police. If and when we receive factual information from the investigation, we will act accordingly.
What is the definition of bullying?
- The term “bully” means different things to different people. Many think of a student who is physically abusive or constantly picking on people. We help students define this in terms of Five Forms of Mistreatment. They are taught these concepts beginning in elementary school, including:
1) Exclusion – the target feels left out
2) Put-downs – the target feels bad or hurt
3) Bullying – the target feels afraid
4) Unwanted physical contact – the target’s boundaries are violated
5) Acts against everyone – the entire campus is affected by actions
Does the district have a zero-tolerance policy relating to bullying?
Yes. AHISD has very high expectations and strong policies for the behavior of students, and we do not tolerate any of the Five Forms of Mistreatment. Teachers and administrators follow up on each reported incident. Parents are contacted, and a variety of consequences are provided depending on the severity of the incident. Again, zero tolerance means that every reported incident addressed, but it does not guarantee that there will be a change in behavior. There are escalating consequences and interventions if the inappropriate behavior continues.
Does the district have any programs to prevent bullying?
Yes. AHISD has a very robust program to prevent the Five Forms of Mistreatment in grades PK-12. However, it is important to note that no program can completely eliminate mistreatment. No one program or speaker or event or video is enough to completely eliminate it. It takes diligent work on a daily basis from parents, teachers, administrators, community members and students. To see the extensive list of programs we have implemented, as well as a brief description of each, click on this link AHISD Measures to Prevent Bullying.
How do you choose which programs to use?
AHISD has had a Character Committee in place for the past seven years that includes counselors, teachers and administrators. This committee reviews research-based programs to make informed and thoughtful decisions about which programs and components of programs to use for each campus and at each grade level.
What process has the district used in the past to proactively address issues?
Our school community has undergone two intensive planning processes that included significant input from our parents, staff and students – one in 2009 and another in 2015. Both the 2009 Strategic Plan and the 2015 Profile of a Learner place a heavy emphasis on character education and social/emotional issues.
What can the school and parents do about Cyber-bullying occurring off-campus?
Nationally this presents a major challenge and impacts every school in America. Children today have access to so much information, and anonymity often invites poor behavior. When we are aware of off-campus issues relating to students, such as cyber-bullying, our staff contact parents to inform them about the issue, and often students are brought together to help mediate the situation so that it can be resolved. However, the district can only provide consequences for actions that occur at school or school-related activities. We encourage parents to contact teachers, counselors or administrators when there is a concern. In addition, the district does have an anonymous tip line that allows anyone to report such issues, and each is addressed quickly.
To understand the complexities and implications of cyber-bullying and schools, you may reference this article from The Dallas Morning News, “Bullying Proves a Vexing Problem for Texas Schools.”
What is the 24 Hour Code of Leadership?
Participation in an extracurricular activity is a privilege and not a right. AHISD has a 24 Code of Leadership, which students sign as a prerequisite to participate in extracurricular activities in grades 7-12. It spells out behavioral expectations and contains consequences for inappropriate off-campus behavior, but the consequences for inappropriate behavior only impact the extracurricular activity, not participation in the normal school day.
What are the next steps?
In the days ahead, I will be developing a task force to look at all issues relating to student social and emotional health, including issues related to teen suicide and bullying. This task force will be made up of parents, teachers, counselors, and mental health experts. The task force will provide recommendations by May and will be shared district-wide, which will help our schools continue to improve the way we support the social and emotional needs of our children.
How Can Parents Help?
We have an exceptional parent community in Alamo Heights ISD. This is the most engaged and supportive parent community I have ever seen. However, just like our schools can do better, so can our parents and community. Perhaps the most important thing I will ask of parents and our entire community is to model the behavior that we expect of our children. Through a tragedy like this, it is normal to grieve, to ask questions and even to experience anger. Yet, it is the responsibility of each of us to follow our AHISD motto, which is to “Live Honorably, Act Humbly, and Model Dignity”.
We, as a nation, must provide better modeling for our children. If we truly expect our children to display exceptional character, we must first do so ourselves. That begins by each of us asking how we can individually help to contribute to a thoughtful, informed, civil, compassionate and productive discourse, both in person and on social media. We must show empathy for one another, putting ourselves in the place of others in order to understand them. We need to change the way we use words on social media and model this for our children. Our children are watching and learning from our example.
I have admired the grace, compassion, empathy and support our students have given each other. There may be some children right now who feel tremendous grief and even deep remorse. Keep all of our children in your thoughts and prayers.
Everyone who works in AHISD has chosen this profession as a calling to serve others. We love this community and this school district, and we have devoted ourselves to support our children and make a difference in their lives. This is personal to us. We love your children and will do anything to help them become loving, healthy and successful people. Please keep all of our staff in your thoughts and prayers. This is an amazing community and we will get through this difficult time together.
As the Molak brothers wrote in their meaningful message, “It is my dream for the healing of this nation to be David’s legacy.”
Let’s rally behind this statement to set a new standard for Alamo Heights, and for our nation. Let’s work both individually and collectively to make our community closer, our partnership with one another stronger, and our greatest dreams for our children a reality.
With sympathy, love and gratitude,
Dr. Kevin Brown
Superintendent of Schools Alamo Heights ISD
Additional Helpful Resources:
Strategic Planning Resources.
The district plan was collaboratively developed by 252
community and staff members and has a strong focus on social/ emo students and character education initiatives.
(15 initiatives in this area have been implemented since 2009)
The District Education Advisory Council (DEAC), a group of 40 parents, staff, and students created this list of attributes the district nurtures in students.
The 40 Developmental Assets Survey assess the social and emotional assets that lead to the resiliency of students. To access The 40 Developmental Assets Survey results and to learn more, click the link above.
AHISD Character Education
A district character education committee reviews research-based programs. Click on the link about to explore the approach to character education at each level.
(Anonymous tip line intended for student safety at school or school events)
Common Sense Media Resources
(References about Cyberbullying and Digital Citizenship)
Communication Tips for Parents
Dallas Morning News Article
AHISD Training on Teen Suicide. Each year, every professional staff member in AHISD goes through a Teen Suicide and Awareness Training, which includes the topic of bullying.