By DAVID BORAKS
Some downtown merchants and Davidson Elementary School parents are planning to try to revive “Fridays on the Green” this week by organizing a Friday afternoon gathering that would include free ice cream. Officials at Davidson Elementary School say they’re willing to consider revising a new policy that ended the weekly after-school tradition, but they won’t make an exception this week.
The effort comes as some parents continue to question a decision by the school’s former principal, and now upheld by a new principal, to stop letting parents give their fifth-grade students permission to walk to the Village Green on Main Street after school on Fridays. (See Feb. 24, 2012, “New school policy ends fifth graders’ Fridays on the Green.”)
That policy, announced in a Feb. 13 letter sent home to parents, said the school would no longer dismiss students to walk to the Green on Fridays, even if they have their parents’ permission to do so. Instead students must stick to their usual mode of transportation home – riding the bus or getting picked up by parents.
A new letter this week offers to allow the walks once a month – on the fourth Friday – but only if parents sign up with the school as volunteer chaperones. The school said Thursday that kids would not be allowed to walk to the Green this week, since it’s not the fourth Friday.
What might happen this week is not clear. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream manager Karen Toney is offering free ice cream on the Green and hoping some students will join her. She said she’s saddened by the school’s decision to stop the Friday tradition, and is calling Friday’s gathering “Occupy the Green.” (See her comments, Occupy the Green Friday and fight for a local tradition.”)
Davidson Elementary’s former interim principal, Anne Nivens, said last month the ban was prompted by complaints from parents and businesses and concerns about safety and unruly behavior. She also told DavidsonNews.net that fifth-grade students are too young to be out without an adult.
But there’s another side to the story, some parents say: The surprise termination, without public discussion, of a longtime local tradition that parents themselves had sanctioned. Meanwhile, DavidsonNews.net talked to shopkeepers and store managers two weeks ago, and found none who said they had complained. In fact, some business owners worry that the end of the Friday gatherings will hurt business. The owner of The Soda Shop on Main Street told DavidsonNews.net last month it could cost her $50,000 a year.
Kim Fleming, the Davidson’s Downtown Manager, said she’d like to see the Friday tradition revived somehow. “I hope that it returns, for the good of the kids and downtown,” she said.
ONCE A MONTH, WITH CHAPERONES
Just a week into his new job, new Davidson Elementary Principal Dana Jarrett was not available to talk about the situation on Wednesday or Thursday because of meetings. School secretary Carina Nevel responded on his behalf Thursday by saying that the new letter to parents spells out the school’s position. That March 7 letter proposes to allow Friday dismissals to the Village Green once a month, but only if enough parents sign up in the school office to chaperone kids as they leave.
Parents still would not be allowed to give their children permission to walk to the Green on other Fridays.
“Students will not be dismissed to the Green without parent volunteers,” the letter says. Volunteers would have to sign up on the Thursday before the fourth Friday, and parents would have to send permission notes before 9 a.m. on that Friday. Those students will be given a “Green Pass” that would be required in order to walk to the Green. The once-a-month Fridays on the Green would be continue unless there are complaints, the letter says, adding:
Davidson administration will provide this opportunity as long as we do not receive any legitimate complaints from downtown businesses, law enforcement, or community members. We also will respect our 5th grade teachers’ instruction time by asking the students to refrain from interruptions related to this activity during the school day. As long as these few stipulations are met, we will honor this tradition in the Davidson Community month to month for the remainder of this school year.
“They have spoken to the mayor and Officer Miller (Davidson Police Chief Jeanne Miller) about it, and it will be the fourth Friday,” Ms. Nevel said. Asked about the plans for an event this week, March 9, she replied: “There won’t be any changes at the last minute.”
POLICE CHIEF: NOTHING ILLEGAL
Chief Miller said Thursday she and her department had nothing to do with formulating the policy and have no role in enforcing it. She said her officers have long been aware of the Friday gatherings and officers sometimes stop by the Green to check in on the students.
“There’s nothing illegal about the kids gathering on the Green,” Chief Miller said. “On the three weeks out of the month where the school is not going to let the kids gather from school, there’s nothing that prohibits a parent from allowing their children to come home from school and then go to the Green.”
For most green-going students, that will mean taking a bus home and then a car ride to the Green, or getting picked up and ferried to the Green by mom or dad. Some parents are lamenting the loss of a tradition that allowed kids to walk from school themselves once a week, even if they don’t live near the school, and to learn to be responsible and socialize with fellow students outside of school. Other parents have complained that the end of the policy came as an edict, without discussion. (See the many comments on our Feb. 24 story.)
Mayor John Woods said Thursday the town hasn’t been involved in the policy change. “I feel like that’s an issue between the parents and the kids and the school,” he said. But he also hopes the halt to Fridays on the Green isn’t permanent.
“Personally, I love the tradition,” Mayor Woods said. “It’s a great time for kids to spread their wings appropriately and to grow and to have some social time that is basically free. It’s a wonderful part of a small community.”
Parent Sara Kratt agrees, though she thinks asking for school-approved parent chaperones goes too far. In an email Wednesday she said: “The tradition of ‘allowing’ American children attending American schools to freely leave school grounds, after school hours and walk home on their own free will is not a privilege, but a legal American right. … Since when did walking home (or to the park, library, friend’s house etc.) become something the school needed to deem ‘acceptable’?”
RELATED LINKS AND DOCUMENTS
March 8, 2012, Letter to the Editor by Karen Toney, “Occupy the Green Friday and fight for a local tradition.”)
Feb. 24, 2012, DavidsonNews.net, “New school policy ends fifth graders’ Fridays on the Green”
Feb. 16, 2012, Davidson Elementary School letter to parents about the new policy. (PDF)
CLARIFICATION: This story has been revised to say that Principal Dana Jarrett’s schedule kept him from commenting on the issue this week, instead of saying that he declined to comment.