By DAVID BORAKS
Davidson Elementary School officials said Friday they’re reversing a policy change that had ended the longtime local tradition of fifth-graders’ walking to the Village Green on Friday afternoons. The announcement came as a horde of schoolkids and their parents, along with TV cameras and reporters, gathered for a celebration and demonstration billed as “Occupy the Green.”
In a note sent home with fifth-graders Friday, Principal Dana Jarrett said the school recognizes the Fridays on the Green tradition, but has concerns about safety and liability to Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. Nonetheless, Mr. Jarrett said parents could give their students permission to join the weekly walks by sending back the letter indicating which dates they’ll walk and acknowledging that the school and CMS have no liability after students leave campus. The letter is similar to one that parents were asked to provide several years ago, but which had for some reason had fallen out of use.
Mr. Jarrett, who has only been in the job for a week and inherited the controversy, also delivered an automated telephone call to parents Friday afternoon reminding them that they must send a note to school any time their children are planning to leave school by means other than their usual arrangement.
The telephone call came just as kids – who had permission to do so from their parents – walked up South Street to the Village Green, off Main Street. Friday’s event – which came with free ice cream – brought 125 to 150 people downtown, including fifth graders, parents, younger siblings. Some carried signs saying “Let Us Walk” and “Trust” and “We can take care of ourselves.”
Karen Toney of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on Main Street was out there with her cart offering free samples. Some parents handed her cash to help pay for the event.
School officials had said they canceled the Friday tradition out of concern for kids’ safety as well as after receiving complaints from local business owners and library about unruly behavior. That message was not lost on the kids, even as they joined Friday’s protest to win back the right to visit the Green Fridays.
“Some kids at the Green were not behaving, so they took this away from us,” said Michael Kungl, a fifth grader who lives in the River Run neighborhood. He was holding a “Trust” sign and eating ice cream. “What we’re trying to say is you can trust us.”
He said what he likes most about Fridays is hanging out with friends and going to the Soda Shop. “There’s just a lot of good stores in Davidson and a lot of great people,” he said.
Waving his own poster, fifth grader Zac Churchill of South Street said Friday’s “Occupy the Green” event was a good idea. “I think it’s a good thing because I really want the Green back. I think it’s really cool that all these people are coming out and helping us,” he said.
Amy Young of South Street, the mother of an elementary schooler who hopes to walk to the Green in a few years, applauded the school’s decision not to stick to the Friday afternoon walking ban. “I think that was the wisest decision the school could’ve made.
Added David Batty of the McConnell neighborhood, the parent of a fifth grader: “It’s a victory for the people – and ice cream.”
RESPONDING TO OUTCRY
Parents over the past two weeks have emailed the school, posted comments on this website and even launched an online petition drive questioning a decision by the school’s former principal to stop letting parents give their fifth-grade students permission to walk to the Village Green on Fridays. (See Feb. 24, 2012, “New school policy ends fifth graders’ Fridays on the Green.”)
That policy, announced in a Feb. 13 letter 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 were told they must use their usual mode of transportation home – riding the bus or getting picked up by parents. A new letter this week offered a compromise – proposing to allow the walks once a month – on the fourth Friday – but only if parents sign up with the school as volunteer chaperones.
Then Friday, Mr. Jarrett announced he was reversing the decision altogether, allowing parents to give their kids written permission to walk on Fridays.
In an interview at midday Friday, Mr. Jarrett told DavidsonNews.net that after consulting with his Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools’ superiors, the school would honor written requests from parents to allow their children to leave the school as walkers. “They will have the ability, if they have parental permission, to leave as walkers,” he said. “Any time a parent gives me that written permission, I’ll honor it,” he said.
Mr. Jarrett said that would be true any day, not just one Friday a month.
The new principal, who came to Davidson Elementary March 1 from a Cabarrus County elementary school, has been in an unenviable position. He’s been on the job just seven days, and is still getting to know the community. With the debate over Fridays on the Green, he said, “The fact is that my role now is to ‘heal’ it.”
Mr. Jarrett will be at the Parent Teacher Organization meeting on Thursday, March 15, and hopes to meet parents there. The school also plans some “meet and greet” events where he can introduce himself as well.
RELATED COVERAGE AND DOCUMENTS
March 9, 2012, Davidson Elementary letter to fifth grade parents announcing reversal of the policy change. (PDF)
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)