Schools and tools

Sometimes it is surprising how little public entities actually care about the people they are supposed to serve. Take the Washoe County School District, for example.

The district is supposed to be training students in how to be useful members of society. It is supposed to give students the tools and the foundation to build future lives on—not just reading, math and writing, but rudimentary experience in technology like slide rules, calculators, telephones, computers and the Internet. In part, this is what the standards are about.

But for an outfit that is supposed to be training students how to get along in modern society, in many ways, the Washoe County School District is woefully inadequate.

Remember in January, when the Gardnerville students suffered potential mercury poisoning, but several hours passed before some parents were notified? At that time, school officials all over the state were made aware of the weakness of our schools’ emergency response and notification procedures. It is not difficult to think of other instances in the fairly recent past where a mass communication system could have been used by schools—weapons discovered at schools, gas leaks, disease epidemics, late starts due to weather, any time the school should communicate directly with the parent.

And yet, what’s changed? Last week, when a News & Review staffer’s child got sick at school and had to be sent home, school officials—although provided with a multiplicity of contact numbers—failed to leave messages on the home answering machine, cellular telephone or on one of the parent’s work answering machines. In fact, neither of the parents received a message from the school (until the next day), and the child was picked up by an aunt; he spent the afternoon asleep on the floor of her office.

Everything worked out in that case. But in this world of constant, instantaneous communication access, why aren’t schools sending out e-mails to parents as a matter of course? Why aren’t messages left at all the numbers parents provide to the schools?

It’s time for the school district to come into the ‘90s. Automated and redundant mass communication systems need to be established by the district to communicate with parents—from district-wide down to the individual parent. In other words, telephone numbers should be dialed and messages left; notes should be sent to work and home e-mail addresses, a human being should follow-up with phone calls. When necessary, news media should be notified.

This is easy and cheap technology. Parents could sign up for e-mail notifications, and except for the initial setup, the system wouldn’t even require much in the way of resources. There is no reason that parents should wait for an efficient communication method when our schools teach the skills necessary to create it.