What started out here as a School Zone blog post, then morphed into a front-page story that has since been picked up nationally, has garnered many opinions on whether it's OK for a pre-K teacher to send a handwritten note home to all parents saying that some children are coming to school smelly and unclean.
"It is a health and safety concern," wrote BUILD Academy pre-kindergarten teacher Sharon D. Perry Dunnigan. "It also makes it difficult for me to be close to them or even want to touch them. Enough said."
Nearly 400 comments were posted to the Saturday story. Newspapers, TV and radio locally and nationally have run with the story too. It seems people's reactions fall into one of two camps:
1. The teacher was entirely within her rights to send a note out to the entire class and alert all parents that this is serious problem. The backlash against this teacher is an example of political correctness run amok. Moreover, it's the parents who should be held accountable, not the teacher, for sending their children to school dirty and smelly.
One commenter wrote: "As a parent I have No Problem with this sort of notice. In fact I have read the letter to my children and reiterated the importance of personal hygiene as well as the daily routine they need to demonstrate before leaving the house. We need to confront these issues straight on, and stop sugar coating things for the children. Teachers should not have to deal with these issues as they have enough problems they need to deal with on a daily basis."
2. The teacher was unprofessional to send out such a poorly worded, handwritten note to all parents about a cleanliness issue that affected only a few of her children. She or the school nurse should have reached out personally to the parents of the affected children to resolve the issue in a more productive way. This kind of note won't help.
One commenter stated: "The letter was 100% unprofessional. I work in education (early childhood) and we have to deal with these situations all the time... she lacked tact and professionalism. There are other ways to go about this situation, my co-workers do it all the time. I would be mortified if I was heading up this school."
It's an interesting back and forth to read. But in light of some comments, I want to stress that no one I spoke with said they think it's OK for children to go to school smelling bad or wearing dirty clothes. No one said the teacher shouldn't have addressed this situation, and no one said that parents aren't responsible for sending their children to school clean. In fact, even critics of the teacher acknowledged the reality of children being sent to school unclean as a real problem.
"I’ve subbed in BPS for 8 years," said Bryon McIntyre, a vice president for the District Parent Coordinating Council, who brought the matter to the district's attention. "It happens."
"It's a common problem," said school board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak, adding, "You’re going to work in situations that aren’t perfect, and as a teacher you have to deal with it. You have to deal with it appropriately."
The issue here is whether Dunnigan's approach to dealing with the problem was reasonable. It's also worth noting that the Buffalo school district spends millions of dollars a year on student support staff who are hired to address situations like this one.
Here's the letter again for people who missed it the first two time around: