Parents vent frustration about administration’s disconnect from student needs

Jacob Posner, Editor-in-Chief

Tension between parents and U-High administration ran high during a Principal’s Chat for parents Jan. 22 in the Gordon Parks Assembly Hall. More than 100 parents showed up — triple the typical number, according to a parent who did not give her name. About two-thirds of the attendees raised their hands when Director Charlie Abelmann, who co-facilitated the meeting with Principal Stephanie Weber, asked who came to discuss the events surrounding science teacher Daniel Bobo-Jones.

Most of the meeting, which was held from 8-9 a.m., was devoted to the termination of Mr. Bobo-Jones. Parents voiced issues about the timing of Mr. Bobo-Jones’ termination, how the community was informed and how the administration handled the three-day transition of Mr. Bobo-Jones’ classes to a long-term substitute.

Many of the comments were punctuated by applause from other parents.

One parent, who said she was a psychotherapist, questioned the administration’s devotion to student emotional health. Her child was in Mr. Bobo-Jones’ class.

“He was one of those teachers we heard about at the dinner table,” the parent said at the meeting. “He was someone who had really taken the time to get to know my son. He was a cheerleader for him, and he made us feel really good about Lab. He was one of those teachers that we really admired academically, but who really got to know my kid. My son is at school one day, and he texts me between classes and he’s completely blindsided to learn that somebody who he had had an emotional connection to, who he anticipated to have an ongoing relationship with — he learns by email with the subject line ‘A change in your student’s program’ that this person is gone from his life, has just disappeared and he will never see him again. It was really traumatic.”

Dr. Abelmann explained that there was a conscious decision to have administrators lead Mr. Bobo-Jones’ class before the long-term substitute, Dr. Marites Barris, started teaching. He said they were in place to attend to student’s emotional needs.

Another parent questioned the value of these classes under a new teacher.

“I can tell you from my daughter’s perspective there are students that because of how hurt and how they got the rug pulled out from under them, they’re not going to give this teacher the time of day. She’s not able to command their attention in the classroom,” the parent said. “She’s still trying to figure out what exactly she’s supposed to be doing. And again to the point of how much money me and my husband are — we’re not affiliated with the University — we pay full-board tuition. If my husband were here, he’d say very clearly, ‘When is it that the email is going to come for the refund for the lost class time that we paid for at a premium and what we expect?’”

Another parent said the administration is disconnected from the larger Lab community and that it falsely asserts to care about the community.

“It sounds, at least to us, like the last thing on your minds is instruction and meaningful learning taking place,” he said. “I think that’s part of why you see the turnout that you see here. It goes to the heart of what Lab School claims to be. If you really take our students seriously, I dare say you need to be more thoughtful and in-the-moment.”