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Should kindergartners be encouraged to conform to peer pressure? One Pasco school suggests so

Deer Park Elementary School has posted this chart of student expectations. Some parents have complained about its terms, such as the suggestion that conforming to peer pressure is positive.
Deer Park Elementary School has posted this chart of student expectations. Some parents have complained about its terms, such as the suggestion that conforming to peer pressure is positive.
Published Aug. 17, 2017

A Pasco County elementary school came under fire on social media Thursday for its new behavior expectation charts that suggest conforming to peer pressure is positive, and that running in school is anarchy.

Parent Charity Hendry started the conversation on Facebook. Her child attends Deer Park Elementary in New Port Richey.

"NO child should be labeled an ANARCHIST for running in school," Hendry wrote. "I will not encourage my child to CONFORM by giving into peer pressure. It just gets worse. Read the photos. Seriously. This is real. The principal is standing by the policy."

She stressed that she isn't out to get anyone. Not the "amazing" kindergarten teacher. Not the "amazing" school that she bought her home near to allow her children to attend.

"BUT this, I will not stand for this," Hendry wrote. "This isn't right for ANY child."

School district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said at 3 p.m. that superintendent Kurt Browning has ordered all the signs removed, at least until the school holds a parent meeting Tuesday where the philosophy of the new model can be explained. She acknowledged that the language on the posters is "inflammatory" and agreed that parents should have been informed before anything took effect.

At the same time, Cobbe said, the bottom line goal of encouraging self-discipline and good behavior is something all schools want.

Before this decision emerged, Hendry encouraged others to speak out, and within minutes they did so. Before long, statewide organizations such as the Opt Out Florida Network joined the discussion. All shared a similar perspective: The expectations were "crazy," or some variation of it.

"Conform! How Orwellian," Nick Marth replied on Facebook. "More proof of the state trying to parent instead of allowing the parents to do it. Completely unacceptable and will not be followed in my house."

About two hours into the conversation, which spread to others' sites as well, Cobbe chimed in:

"We'd like to address the comments related to this new behavior and classroom culture initiative at Deer Park Elementary School. The posters include admittedly inflammatory words without any frame of reference. Some of the words describe behaviors we do not want in classrooms. Others describe desirable behaviors. Unfortunately, the posters don't differentiate.

"This initiative follows the key concepts of Marvin Marshall's "Raise Responsibility" system. Marvin Marshall is an international author and public speaker who has developed a philosophy used in many schools to improve classroom discipline. The Deer Park principal is communicating with parents so that you have the background behind the posters' development. There also will be a parent meeting next week so that school staff can more fully inform families about this initiative, designed to create a positive culture where everyone is focused on learning. We regret that this was rolled out without first notifying parents or explaining fully what each word and level mean. We hope you'll give the school the chance to explain their motivation."

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The general response was less than enthusiastic. Parents refused to back down, saying they would fight to have the program removed.

"This is going to become an embarrassing problem for the entire Pasco County school system. No child should essentially be bullied/labeled by the very people who are supposed to help build them up," wrote Jacquelyn Warner. "How can you teach a child to conform to peer pressure? This goes against everything we strive to teach our children at home. Breaking laws in classrooms? Being labeled an anarchist? Until my son burns the flag while in class, he sure as hell is NOT an anarchist!"

Cobbe responded to the page that no student would be encouraged to conform to peer pressure. "This is the problem with the poster, and we can understand why you believe that's what they are teaching."

After a stream of more criticism, the district said the comments were "well taken." Cobbe told the Gradebook of the district's move to temporarily remove the posters shortly after.

Reached by phone, Hendry said she had done some research into the new Discipline Without Stress Punishments or Rewards model, created by Marvin Marshall, and found it unacceptable. Simply changing some words on the posters won't suffice, she suggested.

Hendry said principal Margie Polen "thinks that we can make it work without removing it. I disagree. ... You can't tell a 5-year-old that he's a bully because he doesn't listen to the teacher," she added. "It's not appropriate."


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