Rabbideau addresses Alpena Public Schools concerns, social media chatter | News, Sports, Jobs

ALPENA — Alpena Public Schools has gotten off to a bumpy start to the school year after some unexpected and unpredictable events, according to school officials.

Ongoing construction at several schools has pushed back the start of the year, though the school year began on Aug. 30.

∫ Thursday, an online threat and tensions between students over displays of the confederate flag forced Alpena High School not to open on Friday.

∫ Monday, Thunder Bay Junior High School announced it will transition to remote learning for the balance of this week due to a lack of teachers who have COVID-19 or are in quarantine because of close exposure to someone infected.

Many students are also in quarantine at home due to being exposed to some of the staff.

∫ Some parents have had to provide transportation for their children because there aren’t enough bus drivers to send out the entire fleet of buses.

Despite multiple difficulties, APS Superintendent David Rabbideau recently sought to clear the air about concerns voiced by students and parents on social media.

FLAGS, DRESS CODES, AND THREATS

Last Thursday, a group of students wore Confederate flags and accessories as a show of support for a student who was involved in a social media dispute, school officials say. The actions of this group caused a substantial disruption to the school day by creating a climate of intimidation, according to a press release.

Rabbideau said the school has not banned any flags, but staff will ask students to consider what they wear or display. He said school policy gives the school power to send students home if attire is inappropriate or causes a disruption to the educational atmosphere. The school’s handbook does not further define what constitutes inappropriate.

Rabbideau said the students with the confederate flag were talked to and eventually they conceded and removed the garments. Other students, who were wearing or displaying pride flags and accessories, also were asked to remove them to not cause a distraction or commotion.

“We feel anyone wearing a flag like a cape, no matter what kind of flag it is, is a distraction to the learning environment,” Rabbideau said. “We sat down the students and explained to them the impact they were having and all removed them. Cooler heads prevailed.”

The high school was closed Friday as police investigated a possible threat to the school made on social media. The police subsequently determined the school and students were not being targeted, and classes resumed Monday. Rabbideau said the social media post was misinterpreted and not a threat at all.

“I’m confident there was no threat, so I can’t say what type of threat it was,” he said. “The post was completely out of context and spun into an entirely new meaning unto itself. My hat is off to the Alpena Police Department for the work it did.”

VOICING CONCERN

As students and parents flock to social media to voice concerns about the learning atmosphere at Alpena High, more than a handful of parents and students contacted by The News seeking comment declined to do so.

Several people claimed they feared they could face discipline or repercussions if they shared information about school activity.

Rabbideau said he has never issued such a mandate and if he learns anyone one who works at APS did, the person who made the threats could face discipline themselves.

“”We are hypersensitive to First Amendment rights, and if I find out someone made that type of statement, I will address it,” Rabbideau said.

Some have claimed on social media that there are students that wear dog collars and are attached to leashes, and are walked from place to place, while stopping to bark at classmates.

Rabbideau said he has not personally seen students do that, but admitted he had heard of it occurring and insists it will be addressed if the behavior continues.

“Any disruption to the learning environment will be handled,” he said. “I don’t know how this wouldn’t be disruptive.”

Three APS Board of Education trustees indicated that they were unaware of some of the concerns or what measures staff did or didn’t take in addressing issues.

Trustees Eric Lawson, Gordon Snow, and Stacey Parr said they would continue to monitor the situations and seek input about some of the claims being made by students and parents on social media. Lawson said he wants to make sure students who are disciplined are treated fairly and that the rules apply to everyone equally.

“It has to be fair across the board,” he said.

Snow said other schools nationwide have also faced some of the issues Alpena has dealt with. He admitted there may have been a rocky start to the school year, but Alpena is not alone in having some bumps in the road.

“I think nationwide we were looking for a smoother beginning,” Snow said.

LOOKING FORWARD

An uptick in positive COVID-19 cases has also disrupted the start of the school year. On Monday, Thunder Bay Junior High School announced a transition to remote learning for the balance of this week due to a lack of teachers who have COVID-19 or are in quarantine because of close exposure to someone infected.

Many students are also in quarantine at home due to being exposed to some of the staff.

Rabbideau said things aren’t as bad at the schools as some believe and added he has heard little from parents who have large concerns and even fewer who are threatening to remove their kids from APS.

He said the school system has seen a 10% jump in enrollment, and that shows people are happy with the direction of the school and eager for their children to attend.

Rabbideau said the school year started successfully, despite recent events. He added he wishes people would contact the schools directly instead of relying on social media for information.

“COVID came along, and the issue at the high school came along, and we’ve addressed those things,” he said. “These are things that are not the school district’s fault. People need to stop going to Facebook to get answers, where all of the answers are 100% wrong and reach directly out to us. We are working as hard and to the best of our ability to serve the students of Alpena Public Schools the best we can.”




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