AP

In video classes teachers parse clues to student wellbeing

Oct 23, 2020, 5:47 AM

Third grade student Elena thinks while reciting multiplication tables, as her brother Wyatt reviews...

Third grade student Elena thinks while reciting multiplication tables, as her brother Wyatt reviews his kindergarten work on a tablet with their mom, Christi Brouder, in the living room of the family home, while remote learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Haverhill, Mass. The Brouder family has four children that are distance learning. Many families with multiple students, some with special needs, are dealing with the challenges of remote distance learning in their home. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Christi Brouder had finally gotten her 10-year-old daughter settled on the hallway floor with a laptop and signed into a video class on Google Meet when the girl’s 6-year-old brother leaped over computer the screen “in his birthday suit” to get a juice box.

To Brouder’s surprise, a social worker from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families called her later that day; someone had reported an adult male exposing himself during the class. That was followed by a visit from a police detective sent by the school to do an in-person wellness check.

Brouder explained that her son has epilepsy and autism and sometimes takes his clothes off to feel more comfortable and the inquiry ended there.

But the experience left the mother in the city of Haverhill incensed, and underscores the challenge on educators to make judgments based on fleeting scenes or sounds from a webcam.

“The teachers never asked to speak to me. Nobody said anything” during the class, Brouder said.

Child protection laws require school personnel, along with health care workers and other professionals, to report any suspicions of neglect or abuse. The coronavirus pandemic and virtual instruction have only raised the stakes; in the absence of daily in-person school and extracurriculars, a teacher’s video contact may offer the only window to spot potential problems in students’ lives.

Many school districts that are still providing classes online have asked teachers to be on the lookout in students’ backdrops for objects such as drug paraphernalia, caregivers who appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and children with injuries or poor hygiene or who are being demeaned regularly by adults.

It can be a difficult call.

“Do I look at that child and say, `Oh, he looks underfed?’” Jennifer Ryan, a middle school teacher in the Connetquot Central School district in New York, said. “Do I look at that child and say, `You know, that room looks much more sparse than a kid should really live in?’”

“I’m making an assumption based on the tiny square that I have in view,” said Ryan, who teaches half her students in person while the other half tune in remotely.

Ryan said her colleagues have encountered loud, profane arguments in students’ homes that are audible not only to teachers, but classmates. Some of the children attending school only remotely already were on the radar of child protection agencies, she said.

“We are mandated reporters, but observing anything at this distance is nearly impossible,” she said.

Advocates worried about a sharp drop in reported cases of possible child endangerment when the coronavirus shut down schools in the spring. Teachers and other professionals who came into contact with a child through their jobs made about two-thirds of the 4.3 million reports that U.S. child protection agencies received in 2018, federal data shows.

“We can view this as a real negative while kids aren’t in school, and that is true, but we can also look at it from the perspective of, we’ve never had this much inside access into a student’s home life,” said Chris Newlin, executive director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center.

The NCAC and others have issued guidelines to help teachers identify warning signs in unfamiliar settings, advising them to be alert for students who appear to be unsupervised and to pay attention to how students interact with others in the home.

“There’s an opportunity for teachers to still see their kids and see if they have any injuries, very obvious things,” Newlin said, “but also what’s in the background.”

In some cases, it’s what teachers don’t see that is alarming, particularly when students repeatedly miss virtual school.

The school system in Tulsa, Oklahoma asked local police to check on two girls, ages 5 and 8, who were given laptops but not logging in at class time. Officers found the sisters home alone and were there when the mother returned home intoxicated, police said. She was charged with child neglect.

Elsewhere, including in New York City and Massachusetts, parents have pushed back at educational neglect allegations reported against them because students have missed class too many times.

Educators should be reasonable but not shy away from reporting things that make them uneasy, said Wendy Rock, a former school counselor who now teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University.

“A parent yelling at a child is not abuse….This is a stressful time,” Rock said. “But if a teacher sees something that gives them the feeling that the child is in danger, at the very least they need to consult with the school counselor.”

An elementary school teacher in Warwick County, Florida didn’t have time to sound a warning on the first day of school in August. Behind a 10-year-old girl attending class online, the teacher and other students heard a commotion unnerving enough that the teacher muted the girl’s audio.

The teacher saw the girl cover her ears before the child’s video window went blank. Investigators would later explain that a bullet had struck the student’s computer when her mother was fatally shot in front of the girl, her three siblings and her two cousins. The mother’s ex-boyfriend was charged with murder.

In Louisiana, it was a BB gun that caught the attention of fourth grader Ka Mauri Harrison’s teacher. He was suspended him for six days after a report that he was holding “what appeared to be a full-sized rifle.” Ka Mauri had picked up the BB gun after his younger brother tripped on it, his parents said. He was suspended for violating an in-class instruction policy.

“They are treating it as if he brought a weapon to school,” Nyron Harrison, one of Ka Mauri’s parents, said.

The Beau Biden Foundation in Delaware developed new training to help educators adjust to the two-dimensional, thumbnail view, emphasizing “the totality of the observations or circumstances,” program director Claudine Wiant said.

“There may be a resonable explanation or there may be something that’s easy to dismiss” on its own, she said, but merits a call in the context of behavioral clues or comments.

She pointed to the case of a first- or second-grade student who was in the dark during video classes.

“The teacher just asked, `Can you turn on the lights?’ And the student’s response was `well, my parents are working and we have to keep the lights off while we’re home alone,'” she said, “and so that was a referral to services.”

Edith Pride, an elementary school teacher in Boca Raton, Florida vented her frustration with the changing landscape during a recent school board meeting, drawing laughs even as she delivered a serious message.

“Parents, please make sure that you have on proper clothing when you are walking behind your child’s computer, because we’ve seen them in their drawers, their bras and everything else,” Pride said at the meeting. “Parents, when you are helping your children at their computer, please do not appear with big joints in your hands and cigarettes. Those joints be as big as cigars. Oh yeah, we’ve seen it all.”

“Teachers are feeling overwhelmed,” Pride said later by phone. “They’re feeling pressure. They’re feeling stressed out of their mind because you have so many different components to look at.”

Some parents say that even though their children never were in harm’s way, there were repercussions from teachers misinterpreting what they thought they had seen. (do we know of anyone else besides Brouder? even if we haven’t interviewed them, could be good to give a sense of the kinds of things teachers have reported/maybe misunderstood.)

Brouder said she is working on her young son’s behavior as she raises four children with special needs, but the police detective’s visit left her daughter unwilling to sign back in for online school out of fear someone in the family would get in trouble.

“There has to be open communication, where if a teacher has a concern or if they think something or they think they saw something that they normally wouldn’t have seen because they’re not in a parent’s home, talk to the parents,” she said. “Don’t just assume the worst.”

The Haverhill school district did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

AP

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a Republican campaign ...

WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

Haley says she raised $12M in February, can’t point to long-term plan to beat Trump

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Friday that she raised $12 million in February, a haul that will likely allow her to remain in the Republican primary against former President Donald Trump past next week's Super Tuesday — even though she can't point to an upcoming state where she expects to beat him.

22 hours ago

February, 29, otherwise know as leap year day, is shown on a calendar Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Ove...

LEANNE ITALIE AP Lifestyles Writer

What would happen without a Leap Day? More than you might think

Leap year. It's a delight for the calendar and math nerds among us. So how did it all begin and why?

2 days ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night ...

MEG KINNARD and WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

Trump wins South Carolina, easily beating Haley in her home state and closing in on GOP nomination

Donald Trump won South Carolina's Republican primary on Saturday further consolidating his path to a third straight GOP nomination.

7 days ago

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of t...

MORGAN LEE Associate Press

Negligence or scapegoating? Trial of ‘Rust’ armorer begins in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin

Prosecutors sought to pin blame on a movie weapons supervisor for bringing live ammunition on set that contributed to the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin during production of the film "Rust."

8 days ago

A pail rests next to caution tape on a beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2...

Associated Press

Young girl killed when a hole she dug in the sand collapsed on a Florida beach, authorities said

A young girl died Tuesday when a deep hole she was digging collapsed on her at a south Florida beach, authorities said.

10 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018....

MEAD GRUVER Associated Press

A Colorado man is dead after a pet Gila monster bite

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death if the creature's venom was the cause.

10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

In video classes teachers parse clues to student wellbeing