IMPERIAL, Pa. – Officials in the West Allegheny School District are scrambling to address concerns from middle school parents outraged over a school “Kindness Workshop” that forced students to expose intimate details of their home life.
The workshop involving 285 eighth-graders at West Allegheny Middle School conducted Jan. 12-14 asked students to form a circle, and to step into the circle if specific statements applied to them, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Students were asked if:
“You or someone close to you has been impacted by alcohol or drugs,”
“You or someone close to you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,”
“You or your family has ever been worried about having enough money,”
“You or someone close to you has been imprisoned,”
“You have one or more parents who did not go to college,”
“You have ever felt expected to live up to society’s portrayal of how girls and boys should act,”
As well as numerous other equally personal questions about their religion and other topics.
“I would never expect a middle school to ask 13-year-old kids if your parents have ever been in jail, if they’re same sex, if they’re having financial issues. Why would my 13-year-old son know any of this?” parent Marie-Noelle Briggs told WPXI.
“All they did was give the bullies more ammunition.”
District officials contend the “Kindness Workshop” was designed to foster better understanding between students, and was based on nationally recognized anti-bullying program. West Allegheny superintendent Jerri Lynn Lippert told the Post-Gazette the district used the program seven years ago with students in grades 6-8 without issue, and decided to use it again because of an uptick in bullying at the middle school.
“There were significant student issues, some of those were definitely intentional acts of bullying, but there were also many unintentional acts … perpetuating common stereotypes on certain groups of students who are traditionally marginalized,” she said.
Lippert also sent a letter to parents stating the superintendent “fully supports the district facilitator and the middle school administrative team that designed and conducted the workshop in response to specific incidents around bullying including but not limited to racial and religious insensitivity as well as body image and sexual orientation.”
Lippert noted in the letter that few parents called to complain about the workshop, and most of the opposition has come from people on social media who do not have children in the school district. School officials held a meeting Tuesday evening for parents that was closed to the media that lasted more than three hours.
Many folks left early because they were frustrated that district officials seemed intent on demonstrating the techniques used in the workshop, rather than listening and responding to parents’ concerns, according to the Post-Gazette.
Griggs said the meeting was the district’s attempt at “damage control,” but the damage is already done.
Lauralee Nuckles told the news site one of the presenters during the workshop inadvertently exposed her daughter’s answer to one of the questions and a student who has been bullying the girl is now using it to harass her.
Nuckles sent an email to district officials about the issue, and forwarded their request to meet in person to an anti Common Core parents group, which posted the response online and sparked widespread outrage.
Lippert told WPIX officials gave students and parents the option to opt out of the “Kindness Workshop,” but parents said the description of the event was misleading.
Regardless, the superintendent conceded to the news site that the district’s “good intentions had some unintended consequences.”