The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

Incident Report Ideations

New Incident Reporting System’s Impacts
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

The 2023-2024 school year at Parker has been a year of new policies, systems, and ideas for change. The cell phone policy was introduced, the schedule may be changing, and the Upper School Incident Report system was put in place. Since the introduction of the Upper School Incident Reporting Form at Parker, some people believe that the school culture has been affected.

The Upper School Incident Reporting Form was introduced this year to serve as a system to report incidents where bias, bullying, harassment, or hate speech have occurred. It was instituted alongside new anti-bullying policies at Parker. According to Cory Zeller, the Upper School Head, as of January 31st, 2024, there have been 34 reports submitted.

When filing a report, students may provide their name and email or choose to stay anonymous. They also state their role in the incident as well as the incident’s date, time, and location. Then they are asked to pick what type of incident it was, such as a comment in class or an offensive picture.

Students are also asked to provide a narrative description of the incident, who was involved, and what their parents know about the incident. At the end of the form, there is a spot for any additional comments and supporting documents. 

In addition to those categories, the reporter is asked, if applicable, what aspects of their identity were a part of the incident. This question helps identify what part of someone’s identity was involved or maybe targeted in the incident, such as their race, sexuality, religious beliefs, or any other aspect they deem a part of their identity. 

This system promotes accountability and is a way for students who have experienced these incidents, bystanders, or people looking to help their friends receive help. It also introduces a new ability; the ability to remain anonymous. Before this form, students could not remain anonymous because they would need to email the administration or meet with someone to report an incident. This new ability opens the reporting system to people who previously may not have wanted or felt safe reporting incidents. 

One concern regarding the anonymity of the form is the decreased credibility of the reports. If someone reporting an incident doesn’t need to worry about their name being connected to a report, they may negatively exaggerate it. Matt Laufer, an Upper School English teacher and Department Co-Chair, believes that “anonymity can diminish the credibility of a claim.” 

Zeller believes that the benefits far outweigh any issues regarding the report system. “The incident report is new to our culture,” she said. “We don’t want to create a ‘gotcha culture’ where there is no room for mistakes or grace, but rather a culture of accountability, where students have a place to report aspects of our culture that need interrupting.” 

Some people are concerned that the “gotcha” culture has already entered the culture of our school. There has already been a change to the broader culture in the past few years, but some worry that students at Parker are more actively trying to catch people making mistakes in the school since the introduction of the report. This culture affects classroom conversations and the ability of students to voice their opinions. Laufer believes that “the ‘gotcha’ thing is real,” and thinks that there’s a fear of saying the wrong thing, being misunderstood, or being taken out of context which leads to “a chilling effect where folks are less likely to share, engage, and take risks about what they are willing to talk about.” Laufer added that students are not the only ones affected by the report system. He said that he has colleagues “who have thought twice in ways they may not have before,” about introducing a topic in class for example.

Andrew Bigelow, an Upper School history teacher and Department Co-Chair, is “worried that [the form] has turned into more of an opportunity to tell on somebody.”

Bigelow spoke about the difference between safe and brave spaces in his classroom. He believes that a safe space is sometimes problematic because it allows “haters” a safe space to speak their minds without being challenged. He said that a “brave space” is one where people can respectfully disagree, challenge what someone says, and most importantly, call out hate. 

The Upper School Incident Reporting Form relates to the idea of a brave space. The incident report allows people to report and call out hate. The ability to challenge people’s opinions, especially if they are hateful, is the key difference between a safe space and a brave space.

Another concern regarding the report system is that because our generation is known to struggle with conflict and face-to-face interactions, the Upper School Incident Reporting Form provides an online, free-of-confrontation way to report incidents, and therefore removes the crucial step of talking to teachers first. 

Bigelow and Laufer both appreciate Parker’s efforts to encourage direct conversation. “The opening line of our mission is about courage, empathy, and clarity, and we’ve been pretty consistent since I’ve been here that if someone disagrees with a teacher, [the best thing to do] is to approach them,” Bigelow said. He is “big about having a conversation before a confrontation,” and thinks that “we need to encourage kids to have a conversation first.”

Bigelow said that recently, “some kids have chosen to go above teachers’ heads through the incident report form instead of having a conversation.” 

“I know that there are some number of teachers who have had these kinds of reports lodged, and I think that there is some frustration and concern among those teachers,” Laufer said.

Laufer shares a similar view to Bigelow in that “it’s always better for people to get together on an issue.” He worries a bit “that we are making backward progress on that front.” Laufer also hopes that the Upper School Incident Reporting Form is “a last resort” and that people can find other more direct ways of asking questions or taking issue with things that people have done or said, “rather than leaping over everyone else to the administrators who may actually be the least involved.”

Laufer and Bigelow also agree that there are situations where it is appropriate to go over a teacher’s head, such as if a student feels unable to talk to a teacher because they feel unsafe, but that everyone should consider talking to their teachers first.

Bigelow admits that some students may be uncomfortable doing that. Students can feel reluctant to talk to teachers because of the power dynamic. Teachers give out grades and students do not want to affect their teachers’ opinions on them for that reason. When this is the case, Bigelow wants to encourage kids to “go to [their] advisor to give [them] advice or go with [them] to have a conversation with the teacher.”

Laufer believes that there are of course situations where students should be able to go over teachers’ heads, but he also thinks that the power dynamic of grade giving and receiving between teachers and students shouldn’t be a “general shield to protect students from engaging with their teachers when they are unhappy or concerned about something.” He is worried that there is less of a priority in direct conversations.

Laufer also wonders about the implications of the broadness of the meanings of words that are used in the form. He thinks that words like “bias, and even bullying… have sort of slipped into being sort of flexible.” Safety is another term that he believes is a “tricky word these days.Safe used to mean something closer to physical safety, and now for good reason, we’re a little more imaginative when we think about the kinds of safety.” 

He added that he “think[s] it’s kind of risky if a field, in which people out of a claim of safety ask for anonymity, gets bigger and bigger, [he doesn’t] know how for much longer we’ll be able to talk to each other in a real way.”

Accountability, interrupting hate, bias, bullying, or harassment, and the ability to anonymously report incidents are all important, but according to some Parker community members this can result in a decrease in direct conversations, a chilling effect on classroom conversations, and a culture where people are looking to catch others making mistakes.

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About the Contributor
Lula Notz
Lula Notz, Copy Editor
Lula Notz is so excited to start her second year on "The Weekly" as a copy editor. When she isn't trying to come up with an interesting lede or looking up synonyms for words to make them sound smarter, she can be found on the tennis court, sipping an iced beverage, or sending her friends cute photos of her cats.