Because US Marine veteran Kevin Wood was upset about his 11th grade daughter’s world history assignment to learn more about Islam, he launched a verbal assault and media barrage against administrators that left scorched earth instead of open minds to hear his complaint.
It has left those on the front lines of answering the school district’s phones emotionally distressed and defensive based on calls that have come through.
Calling the Charles County Public Schools to ask about this story, I was greeted by a very open and helpful operator who filled me in on the details but asked that her name not be given, “Because the kinds of calls we’ve been getting from people all over the country are so terrible it’s really very frightening for all of us to say the least.”
News outlets reported that Mr. Wood’s daughter had been given the assignment to write a three-page essay about Islam’s five pillars, the holy city of Mecca, and Mohammed.
According to reports, her father perceived this assignment as an effort on the part of the public school to force teaching Islam to kids, and explaining Islam in a way that he did not feel was honest.
“Last Friday, Mr. Wood made some calls to the La Playa High school and as a result the Principal issued a No Trespass order against him to keep him off school ground for everyone’s protection,” said Charles County Schools Spokesperson Katie O’Malley Simpson in a phone conversation.
Asked what Wood threatened, Ms. Simpson replied, “He has a specific word for it I am not going to repeat it. We’re just saying he threatened to cause a disruption.”
In short, the dad lost it big time over the phone. He took a route that I, the mom of four sons, have unfortunately taken more than once. Wood chose to feel the release of venting, rather than the ongoing pain of negotiating.
I think this is something many parents find to be a wrong, but relatable, move.
Simpson confirmed that many have followed Wood’s example by calling the high school and school board. Both are still suffering a constant barrage of phone calls and emails a week after the initial incident, especially since an unnamed veteran’s support group posted all the phone numbers and email addresses for the school district asking supporters to call and write about their anger.
“I have been called a lot of names,” Simpson said. “No personal threats at this point. However, we are all getting it. It’s not going to change the facts or the assignment. It can’t.”
According to Simpson, Wood and his wife have since met with both the Superintendent of School and Superintendent of Curriculum for the district “in an attempt to move forward.”
It seems they are stuck.
Wood’s demand for an alternate assignment for his daughter to earn class credit was flatly denied, according to Simpson.
“It’s a state curriculum for world history,” Simpson explained. “It’s not like when a parent objects to reading a certain book and we can substitute it with another to gain the same reading value. This is world history. There is no substitute.”
The only alternative is getting an “F” for failing to turn in the existing assignment.
While Wood certainly made a point and gained a great deal of public support, his approach may ultimately result in more harm than good for his daughter and his cause.
I don’t say this as a critic, but as someone who has similar experience dealing with school administrators. Results often come more quickly and easily when we as parents are not in rage mode.
In my case, my son Quin, 10, who has been diagnosed with Aspergers, is often ostracized by kids, taunted into losing his cool, or physically bullied.
When it comes to dealing with school officials, it has taken a lot of effort on my part, including apologies and dropping my bad attitude, to move ahead in discussions for the benefit of my child.
Yesterday the “new me” was tested.
I was invited to Quin’s elementary school to watch an anti-bullying play being offered in response to my concerns that kids at his school needed more education and workshops on bullying.
I parked my car in the school lot adjacent to the playground just in time to witness a larger boy grab, shove, and back Quin across the playground like he was a training sledge being hit by a linebacker.
They apparently were playing tag, but the other boy seemed to be past the “light tap” tag rules.
Four teachers stood looking in their direction. None moved as I broke into a run across the field toward Quin. One very nice teacher stood in my way reminding me to go to the office for my visitor’s badge.
The teacher promised to go help my son while I signed in at the principal's office.
I had to make the parental choice whether to push the teacher aside, or step aside myself for the sake of building trust with the teachers and administration.
I walked into the school scowling and got my badge. I sat through enough of the play to get the gist of the giant singing frog puppet telling kids in fifth grade to stop bullying.
I recognized my limitations when I could not muster a smile and quietly left the school.
For me, that was a win. The school is making an effort. My child was unharmed in the incident before the play. I did not regain my previous poor reputation for saying things I often regret.
My performance wasn’t nearly as flawless as that of the performers on stage, but it wasn’t a total bust either.
I recognized that being a proactive parent isn’t about making myself feel better by venting. It’s about finding ways to keep moving forward and getting more people to feel good about being advocates for your child.