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Dexter Students Question Editorial Cartoon in High School Newspaper

A group of International Baccalaureate students say a cartoon published in The Squall promotes bullying.

A recent Dexter student newspaper cartoon depicting one student beating up another is causing administration to work more closely with the newspaper editorial board to discuss future editorial cartoons.

The cartoon accompanied an unsigned editorial, published in the Nov. 16 edition of The Squall, addressing the newspaper staff's concerns with the district's implementation of an IB program, which they argue funnels thousands of dollars away from other programs in the district, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

"This year, 49 students are enrolled within the IB program, 26 of which are diploma candidates. Those 26 students are undoubtedly intelligent and thinking about their futures. But ultimately IB is not worth it. Not worth the cost, not worth separating students, and not worth the possibility of the district not being able to pay for other programs down the road, due to high costs associated with IB," the staff writes.

Paige Bartkowiak, a student enrolled in the IB program, said the editorial casts the IB program in a negative light and pits AP students against IB students. Bartkowiak said she was particularly disturbed by the factual errors in the editorial, and a stick-figure cartoon with two students labeled "AP" and "IB" fighting.

"At one point AP was a new way of teaching and there was opposition. IB is a new way of teaching and people need to have open minds about change," she said. "The article said IB was anti-American just because it was founded in Europe. There are many things founded in other countries and we adopt them into American culture. If the excuse of anti-American is used, that is suggesting that as Americans, we are so close-minded and solely focused on ourselves, which is a problem in itself."

Bartkowiak said since the editorial was published, some students have been afraid to come to school because they fear they could be physically and verbally abused.

"No child should have this fear," she said.

Avery Gordon, another student enrolled in the IB program, also took exception to the editorial.

"I would like to see statements well researched, clarified, and corrected. I am of the opinion the editorial cartoon depicted violence (one student fighting another)," she said "(If) there is no 'environment of bullying at DHS,' I question why the editorial cartoon showed such."

Editorializing IB versus AP

Cameron LaFontaine, co-editor of The Squall said the newspaper's editorial was not meant to incite violence among high school students.

"A lot of us feel like IB demands a lot of money and a lot of attention from basically everyone. Some of that attention could be given to AP students," LaFontaine said. "I don't disagree with what IB is trying to do, but I also feel you need to add more resources to what other students are trying to accomplish."

Addressing concerns about the editorial cartoon, Levy Kipke, co-editor of The Squall, said the stick figure drawings are meant to be an abstract concept and should not be taken literally.

"What we're saying is the AP program is trumping the IB program, not one student dominating another," he said.

DHS adviser Rod Sattherwaite said stick figure drawings to represent issues at the high school are nothing new.

"In our last issue, we talked about semester versus trimesters and we had one stick figure labeled as Dexter High School, with semesters falling down on him," Sattherwaite said.

LaFontaine said he encourages any student upset with the editorial to contact the Squall and discuss their concerns with the staff.

"We encourage other students to express their opinion; we don't discriminate," he said. "In any situation where you are concerned about what's printed, you should come to the source first and talk to us, so we can clear up any misconceptions."

DHS Principal Kit Moran said he plans to speak to the editorial board about the cartoon.

"My goal is to react purposefully," Moran said. "I feel for all my kids. We want to work through what happened.

Moran said he supports an administrative hands-off approach to student media, but also understands the concerns of some parents and students in the IB program.

"It's a balancing act for sure," he said. "I respect the newspaper's right to publish, but we have to make sure we don't damage other students ... in that process.

"What standards were used to judge the cartoon? Did they consider their audience?," Moran asked. "I think The Squall should continue to cover issues relevant to the school. I think we need to look at what they intended to do (with the cartoon), step back, and determine if it could've been handled better."

Implementing IB

Similar to Advanced Placement (AP) classes, the IB program is described as "an academically challenging program for students ages 16 to 19."

According to Superintendent Mary Marshall, Dexter accepted its first group of students into the program this year, with 10 IB classes, at a cost of roughly $140,000.

That number will decrease to $75,000 in the 2013-2014 academic year, due to a full-time coordinator of the program changing to a half-time position.

"Several years ago, we as a district decided we needed more rigorous courses at the high school,” Moran told Ann Arbor.com. “We decided to go down the path of IB as opposed to adding a bunch more traditional AP classes. … We liked the instruction, thought it was a little more appropriate and integrated … part of our district strategic plan is to have our students have a world view and IB classes have a world view.”

The high school currently offers six AP classes with several sections catering to more than 100 students, 

Marshall said the district does not maintain AP specific budget line items in the general fund budget. The cost of the program includes the cost of training, and a stipend paid to teachers who teach AP classes, although the stipend is being phased out at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year. In 2011-2012, the AP stipends amounted to roughly $43,000. In 2012-2013, the stipends reduced to $27,123.

The district also covers the cost of AP exams that students cannot afford, however most students who choose to take an AP exam pay for the cost of the assessment ($89), Marshall said.

The district will offer nine more IB classes beginning in 2013.

Moran said the addition of the IB classes is due to increased interest in the program. Already 20 students have informed the district of their intent to enroll in the IB program during the 2013-2014 academic year.

Students can enroll in a combination of AP and IB classes, or enroll to take different AP classes online that the school does not offer in a physical classroom, Moran said.

"It's about adding more choices for our students," he said.

George Eliot January 17, 2013 at 12:11 PM
A young man with special needs walked into a school, presumably in the midst of some kind of "meltdown", in Newtown, Connecticut. The ensuing encounter with law enforcement did not go well for the young man. Are you actually advocating that a better outcome would have resulted if the school administration would have called a counselor instead of the police??? My point here is that school administrators make decisions about the safety of all the students in their school, every day, and they might pay with their lives. You seem ready to demand the removal of a school administrator based on a statement from one anonymous commentor here, whose comment could be as far from the truth as possible and you wouldn't know the difference.
Sean January 17, 2013 at 12:32 PM
I may be a little out of the loop but since when do you get a police record for getting into a little fight as a juvenile?
Sean January 17, 2013 at 12:34 PM
Also, I only would suggest using force against force as a last resort. I did not state that in my first post although I meant to. I also didn't state that growing up as the older brother of an autistic boy I saw plenty of bullying and threatened many a punk kid in my time.
Laura Jones January 17, 2013 at 02:34 PM
I have edited out my initial rude remarks, George Elliot, but your remarks are infuriating. Let's just deal with the facts and your misstatements: 1. The "boy" you refer to was actually a 20 year adult. We are discussing middle school kids who are 11-14. This alone is enough to make your entire comment moot, but lets continue. 2. Adam Lanza was not a student under the care, control, guidance and protection of the school. We are speaking about special needs students, with legal IEP's in place, documented special needs which can include melt downs, and the most assuredly are under the care of the school. The school has trained personnel - namely school counselors at a minimum, who know how to deal with the various needs of these kids. The police are not part of that group, but in this case, it seems the police had better training and knew an inappropriate request when it was presented. 3. Adam Lanza was not having a melt down, Melt downs are the loss of the ability to remain calm and in control of your emotions, often in the face of a situation too overwhelming (sensory overload, too much input, etc.) . They present with a lot of crying, shrieking or high pitched speaking while trying to keep crying, can include collapsing on the floor, yelling, sometimes with a lot of arm waving and pacing. Adam Lanza acting in a very calm and calculated manner. That was no melt down. Not even close. No valid comparison here either.
Dexter Mom January 17, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Sean, that happens when Dexter calls in the local law enforcement agencies and tells the victim, (who is actually the bully that got pounded because he wouldn't stop bullying and inciting the rest of his goons to do so as well), that they are well within their right to press charges, and the school sheriff liaison goes right along with it because he can't be informed be school admin. that the bullied boy that snapped was ASD and had been taking months of abuse. "The law is the law and if you retaliate and someone gets hurt you can be arrested." Apparently in this town the prosecuting attorneys will take these cases and use them to put another feather in their caps and a chunk of change in their wallets. Oh, and the band of goons will stick together on their stories to make sure it looks unprovoked. Too bad the real victim didn't have an older brother.......
Laura Jones January 17, 2013 at 02:53 PM
3. Adam Lanza never had an encounter with Law Enforcement. He was finished and committed suicide before they entered the building. So whatever analogy you were trying to draw is lost here too. 4. The child we were discussing was not presenting a threat. So why call the police? Why call the police before calling a counselor or 911 for an ambulance? Several of the local police have kids on the spectrum - they also know what is worth being called for, this is not it. So even if we forgive the complete lack of relevance of your analogy and simply go to your main point, the protection of all students, you have nothing to stand on. No students were being threatened. What your post does convey is the position of a large part of our society about what is appropriate care of those with disabilities. When they need care, let's call the police. Even though statistics tell us that these kids are far less likely to be violent criminals that typical children, in raw numbers and as percentages. That's sad and misguided. I appreciate that what happened in Newtown is horrific - in fact one of the children killed was an ASD child, found dead in the arms of his teacher. Correlating that event with this is similar to correlating Tim McVeigh with white male boys from divorced families who are only children. There are similar but no causality. It's an empty correlation.
DCS needs overhaul January 17, 2013 at 03:07 PM
http://www.michiganallianceforfamilies.org/disability-specific-info/attention-deficit-disorder/ http://www.michiganallianceforfamilies.org/disability-specific-info/asperger-syndrome/ http://www.michiganallianceforfamilies.org/disability-specific-info/autism-spectrum-disorder/ http://www.michiganallianceforfamilies.org/disability-specific-info/emotional-impairment-ei/ @George Eliot. Please review the all the symptoms and behaviors related to these impairments we are discussing. It is not uncommon for any of these kids to have a meltdown, especially when they are continually bullied or picked on. It’s not fair to lump all special needs kids in with one who committed horrific acts that we still don’t have all the facts on. Each child and their history is different and unique. Administration should also take into consideration the amount of support or parental involvement in each case to know how to react. Many of these kids make inappropriate comments because that is part of the disorder they have. They can’t help it. Most of them are more of a threat to themselves than anyone else. Calling the police on a middle schooler seems a bit dramatic especially if student was not carrying any sort of weapon or hurting others. If it was a just a meltdown police restraint and involvement is the worst case scenario. Again, some of us remain anonymous because we have already felt ostracized and judged by the community regarding our kids.
Dexter Mom January 17, 2013 at 03:10 PM
George, " Are you actually advocating that a better outcome would have resulted if the school administration would have called a counselor instead of the police???" In our case - YES. Our ASD kid did not have a weapon, and no teacher was ever threatened. No one in Dexter Schools has "paid with their lives" except the ASD kids who will never be the same after suffering the abuse and bullying that is allowed to go on in this town's schools. Laura, yes, the persons who called the law in are still in charge of your kids as administrative employees of Dexter Schools. George the young man in Conn. was not a student of the school or a member of the classrooms there. Having severe mental illness and violently targeting a school is WAY different than being an ASD member of a class as a fully supported IEP kid who is struggling to fit in with a bunch of aggressive neurotypical kids that are taught to bully anyone who acts different. My anonymous comments are the truth and I have miles of paperwork to prove it. I have to remain anonymous because when Dexter settled on a resolution payment to my son, out of court, I had to sign papers of non disclosure, but only for the incident involving the Special Education Services. Our family can actually be sued if we disclose to anyone what really happened.
DCS needs overhaul January 17, 2013 at 03:13 PM
Thankfully Sean your brother had you around! :) I fear for the kids that don't have siblings. I am seeing too many kids that think it's funny to tease, mock, bully those with special needs. Nothing is funny about it. In fact it is repulsive behavior that as a parent I would be horrified if one of my kids were involved with.
DCS needs overhaul January 17, 2013 at 04:18 PM
“I have to remain anonymous because when Dexter settled on a resolution payment to my son, out of court, I had to sign papers of non disclosure, but only for the incident involving the Special Education Services. Our family can actually be sued if we disclose to anyone what really happened.” This blows my mind. How can this district be so irresponsible? I can’t believe with everything you have been through they haven’t done more to prevent this from happening again. Rather they continue to cut services and split special ed staff across many schools. How can they effectively provide the needs of these kids if they are expected to work in multiple schools? Seriously DCS? This is the best you can do with all those degrees and millions of dollars for special education that you receive? How about instead of turning a BLIND eye to the issue you face it front and center. You are located in a state with many Research Institutes/Universities; why not tap into those resources? I know some initiatives with UM and bullying have taken place however one event per year is not enough. It’s the special needs kids that are faced with discipline and threats of suspension or expulsion when they reach their breaking point and either verbally or physically act out towards those that have tormented them for years. The tormenters and bullies walk around free to do it time and time again.
Dexter Mom January 17, 2013 at 04:24 PM
DCS the sheriff was called after the fact, not in response to break up a situation, and someone did get a little hurt, but not serious or lasting. The sheriff's job was to write up a report and file it as well as to "scare" the ASD kid. It happened more than once in different circumstances and was the mode of operation at the time in Mill Creek, and in the HS. A prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw county picked up the file, 7 months after the fact, and thought it would be an easy win in court. The anguish my son felt over that ordeal almost killed him, literally. He had to be watched 24/7 by trained staff in a private therapeutic facility before they could get him turned around. Cost us a fortune and almost cost him his life. He's OK now, still getting therapy, but he'll never be the same after having endured this and he doesn't trust anyone now. He lives with a full time video security camera and a baseball bat by his door. Thank you Dexter Schools.
Sean January 17, 2013 at 04:55 PM
This might sound terrible but if your son was that fragile to where this situation almost literally killed him and now he sleeps with a bat and a security camera, not to mention all the therapy to get him back to ok, maybe he should've been in aprivate schooling setting to begin with? Just a thought. I'm certainly sympathetic to your situation but maybe that would've been better for him? Or maybe that wasn't even an option.
Dexter Mom January 17, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Through middle and high school, the tormenting from the bullies came from the star athletes. That is where the biggest problems are and where the school should focus most. In our case a teacher's son and football player was a ringleader, hence the school's reluctance to punish the tormentors. Fortunately that teacher and student are now gone. I'd like to think that things are better now, having made it our mission to increase awareness and change things, but I am still in contact with parents who are having troubles with the swim teams, both men and women's, and also problems with the school's treatment of attempted suicidal students who are trying to complete homework or return to school after hospitalization. These kids are another huge target and they aren't being given EI status under 504c's or IEP's despite having been hospitalized with full psych. evaluation records to work from. We have a support group of parents of these kids, who have to withdraw from Dexter and go elsewhere for more compassionate education services, and the Board of education has their heads in the sand insisting there isn't a problem, because those parents also need to protect their children from both the schools and the community and can't go "on record". Again I am promoting Mainstreamed Special Kids Awareness Week as a positive, proactive, approach to fixing Dexter Schools which are getting a horrible reputation throughout all the private providers of professional mental health services.
Dexter Mom January 17, 2013 at 05:47 PM
"Gov. Rick Snyder ordered a multi-departmental assessment of the state's services and needs regarding at-risk children, school security, and mental health that will hopefully lead to more answers and better safeguards." We need this at DCS and more, instead of another International Baccalaureate program for the elite few.
DCS needs overhaul January 17, 2013 at 06:09 PM
“We have a support group of parents of these kids, who have to withdraw from Dexter and go elsewhere for more compassionate education services, and the Board of education has their heads in the sand insisting there isn't a problem, because those parents also need to protect their children from both the schools and the community and can't go "on record". Is this an established group? How does one contact this group to be included? I would like to have discussions with other parents in similar situations so I can make the best decision for my child’s education. I have heard many complaints over the years about DHS and the bullying problem. However aa.com published a story about the soccer team having a DS team manager and they allowed him to play a game. Perhaps those kids of the soccer team can reach out to other sports teams and help combat the problem? I continue to hear about bullying from athletes. Have coaches been made aware of this problem? I realize the revolving door of AD’s probably plays a role in that as well. Most leagues and governing bodies of sports now have bullying policies in place however violations have to be reported. I can’t imagine a coach in the district I work ignoring a complaint or proof from a parent that one of their athletes was bullying. Where I work it would be immediate suspension and possible removal from the team depending on the situation. Curious why the culture in Dexter so different about this?
Dexter Mom January 17, 2013 at 06:15 PM
In hindsight I wish we could have done that earlier. We did take him out of DCS eventually and our settlement was enough to pay for his private schooling. My son was not fragile until all the bullying happened. Had it not been for the bullying, he would have been fine, and was doing fine in between incidents but the accumulation was too much to process and we didn't realize he was under so much pressure. He did not tell us about much of it until after the fact because of threats to him that it would become much worse for him.
DCS needs overhaul January 17, 2013 at 07:19 PM
I cannot speak to Dexter Mom's son but I know for my own child they don't process traumatic events like the atypical child. Given the amount of bullying and taunting these kids go through, my child’s medical team feels most of them also suffer with PTSD on top of the already determined disorders. Life for them is very difficult just having any of these disorders. Other kids don't understand because to them child looks no different so why do they behave so strangely? As for private school, some of us don't have 10-20k per year. The government does not provide education vouchers therefore our tax dollars go to supporting DCS so that is where we go. With special needs kids there are no perfect schools or solutions, however DCS can do much more to create a tolerant non-bullying environment.
Dexter Mom January 18, 2013 at 12:30 AM
@DCS needs overhaul, "Is this an established group? How does one contact this group to be included?" We have been meeting about once a month for 2+ years, it is a very private group which does not reveal names, details, or information about members to anyone else outside the group since they are all in or recovering from severe family crisis and need their privacy. We were all quietly invited by another member who recognized our distress either at the hospital, or in other places and offered to help. There is however a more formal group called Parent Professional Suicide Support Team which is run by the U of M and meets monthly at the Rachael Upjohn Depression Center. This volunteer committee deals with all aspects of psychiatric treatment, not just suicide issues, and consists of ongoing patients, parents of patients, hospital administrators, doctors and nurses. It is very open to comments from parents and hospital staff are open to many of our suggestions including the sharing of information about community resources. Contact them first. "I can’t imagine a coach in the district I work ignoring a complaint or proof from a parent that one of their athletes was bullying." That is why there are several coaches who no longer coach at Dexter, and a few more that should be let go.
DCS needs overhaul January 18, 2013 at 03:54 AM
I respect the needs of privacy of the group. Sadly many of us here are also facing the same crisis but we'll have to face it alone. I'm curious about whether or not any of this has been reported to the compliance officer at WISD and if a state or federal violation complaint was filed?
George Eliot January 18, 2013 at 02:49 PM
@ Laura, I'm sorry. My intentions were certainly not to infuriate. I thought it seemed as though you were being a bit hasty in judging the Mill Creek Administration without having verifiable facts. I have had interaction with administration at Mill Creek related to a 7th grade student who was very close to adulthood in physical size. My oldest child was afraid of this boy, with very good reason, and the administration needed to make decisions based on the safety of the majority of students. Also, I applaud the efforts of the parents commenting on here who are actually making suggestions and putting in effort to improve the situation for bullied children in Dexter. I do not have children with special needs myself, but my youngest daughter has been in class for two consecutive years with the same boy who does. The first of these years, it really bothered her that classmates would intentionally try to get him frustrated because they thought his reactions were 'funny'. My daughter said that she tried to help him with some of the school work, in her words "explaining things calmly so he wouldn't lose his patience." Her classroom teacher did confirm this to me and said that her behavior toward this boy was a huge help in the classroom throughout the year....
George Eliot January 18, 2013 at 02:56 PM
... (cont'd) Her second year of class with this boy started with an outside expert talking to the entire class about Aspberger's syndrome. I assume the boys parents must have allowed that, and it made for a much better classroom experience and not just for the boy himself. I think my daughter is better person, and is more patient and respectful with all of her classmates, because of her experiences these two years. If there are more things that other parents and "non-special needs" kids can be doing to improve the situation, please find a way to educate us as well. Even if this can't be done through the schools, other places like the District Library may be an option.
Dexter Mom January 18, 2013 at 03:32 PM
It was reported but WISD was of little help, preferring instead to protect the schools in the district rather than the students. They did advise us of our options to use an advocate, and legal assistance, while pointing out that, while we might have a decent case, a state or Fed. Civil Liberties complaint could take months, even years, to sort out while putting an ASD/EI kid in the public spotlight. We declined a civil suit, and found that the spec ed. lawyer we hired worked very well behind the scenes and quietly got things accomplished quicker. If you are serious about the private support group you might email Daniel Lai and he can forward your contact info so I can give it our NAMI trained group facilitator.
Dexter Mom January 18, 2013 at 03:53 PM
"If there are more things that other parents and "non-special needs" kids can be doing to improve the situation, please find a way to educate us as well. Even if this can't be done through the schools, other places like the District Library may be an option." Thanks George Eliot for understanding and God Bless your daughter for helping. A library meeting would be a great way to facilitate a discussion on positive changes for special ed. kids in the schools. In the mean time, please have your daughter tell a couple friends to also help somebody and ask those couple friends to ask a couple more to help, etc. If we could get some boys involved too that would be awesome.
Laura Jones January 18, 2013 at 04:15 PM
George Elliot. I appreciate the sincerity of your reply. It's a parents nightmare when any ASD person commits a crime because the "all of them" label comes out, and the reality is they tend more to be on the receiving end of violence. It pushes all the work done to advance them in society back again. I appreciate that there are instances, as you mention, where a child who is physically threatening must be removed. In fact, if it were my own child who was threatening others, we would request it ourselves. No one wants to see anyones child get hurt. We also do not want to see anyone try to "scare" perceived bad behavior out of our kids by using the police, when it is not a controllable behavior or simple bad actions on their part. As your daughter (wisely) discovered, the result of sensory overload and too much input is predictable to an extent, and not within the full control of the ASD kid - it's why the provocation is repeated. The result is rote. Police cannot "scare" it out of someone with ASD - it would be like asking them to scare you into better ability to compute 3D mathematics in your head. You get the opposite result. It's a bizare move on the part of someone in education to attempt.
Laura Jones January 18, 2013 at 04:23 PM
I think it's interesting to read your tale of your daughter and the boy with Aspergers. We have noted that our own son's year in class have often found him with little girls who are masterful at facilitating peace and understanding. It must be a gift they are born with. I cannot tell you the level of gratitude we have for these girls. They cast disparaging looks at tormentors, have told some to "sit down and shut it", been a friendly smile when stress is rising and someone to carry on a conversation with when no one else is interested in listening. Please tell your daughter from this parent that she is brilliant. It takes great courage to stand up in the face of others tormenting and risk it being turned on yourself. I admire her courage. You must be very proud to have such a daughter. I am hopeful that at some point here Dexter schools will avail itself of the programs that exist for spreading the awareness of special needs people and for preventing bullying behavior. It is a cultural change that has to begin at the top, and requires a willingness to commit some time to these programs. So far, its been a dead end, but perseverance is the key to any success!
Dexter Mom January 19, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Laura, I'm confused, what does this, "all of them label coming out", mean? " It's a parents nightmare when any ASD person commits a crime because the "all of them" label comes out"
Laura Jones January 21, 2013 at 12:17 AM
Dexter Mom: "All of them" is a label we hear often when an ASD person does something negative. As in "all of those ASD people" are violent, mentally ill, destructive, or something else negative. Even though the statistics show that it's not true, people are scared of what they don't understand and seem to want to label an entire community sometimes.
DCS needs overhaul January 22, 2013 at 03:22 PM
@ Laura Jones - were you still going to schedule a group of Dexter special needs parents on Meetup.com? Looking forward to meeting up with other parents to share ideas or ways to best help these kids get through the school years.
Laura Jones January 22, 2013 at 05:40 PM
It's scheduled! 1st meeting of the Special Education Advocates in Dexter will be Tuesday 1/29 at 7 pm! The meeting is informal. Once we have a head count, we will book a table. The meeting page is here: http://www.meetup.com/Dexter-Spec-Ed-Advocates/ It's free to join meetup.com - I covered the cost of starting the group page. I am really looking forward to meeting other parents. Hope to see many of the posters here attend!
Daniel Lai February 06, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Check out this story. Dexter resident Brent Courson is reaching out to the community to gauge interest in a virtual sailing program for special needs students, http://patch.com/A-1DHD

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