A veteran kindergarten teacher in Buffalo, N.Y., is facing disciplinary action after she sent home a note with all of her students complaining that many of them are dirty and smelly, and that she doesn’t “want to touch them.”
Pre-K teacher Sharon D. Perry Dunnigan, who has taught in Buffalo public schools for almost 30 years, sent home a note titled “URGENT NOTICE!!!”
“Several children in Pre-K ages 3-4 are coming to school (sometimes daily) with soiled, stained, or dirty clothes. Some give off unpleasant smells and some appear unclean and unkept [sic],” the note said.
“Parents please take care of this matter,” the note asked. “It is a health and safety concern. It also makes it difficult for me to be close to them or even want to touch them. Enough said.”
At the bottom of the note she asked the parent to sign and return it so she knows they have received it.
School board members in the Buffalo School District met over the incident and agreed unanimously that Dunnigan should receive more than a verbal reprimand for handling the issue so poorly.
“I was stunned to see a note that was to all parents when it was not all children in the class that are involved in the situation,” board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak told Buffalo News.
When teachers usually confront hygiene issues, they seek the help of a school nurse or social worker and speak to parents personally.
“Everybody on the board was appalled by that, everybody,” said board member James Sampson. “We’re very concerned about what this communicates to little kids and to families.”
The board discussed putting a counseling letter in her personnel file, but some board members feel Dunnigan should apologize and receive training.
However, when the school’s parent facilitator, Denise Glenn, spoke with Dunnigan the day after the letters were sent home, she rejected the suggestion that she make an apology.
“She said, ‘What do you want me to do, apologize? I’m not going to apologize because I got my point across,’” Glenn recalled.
“Sending that letter home to all parents is offensive and almost shows a contempt for the children,” said Samuel Radford, III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “As opposed to judging them, condemning them, make an effort to address the underlying problem. That would be most helpful to the parent, most helpful to the student, and most helpful to the district.”
“Our schools have the support of social workers, school counselors, nurses and external support services ready to help families and lend aid to teachers,” said Will Keresztes, the district’s chief of student support. “Buffalo teachers regularly and faithfully make use of these resources to assist children and families in our district.”
Outraged by the letter, parents have questioned whether Dunnigan’s approach is indicative of a culture of insensitivity towards parents and students in the district, citing the fact that 20 percent of parents at nearby BUILD Academy have applied to transfer their kids out of the school.
“When you read this, how do you feel?” said Bryon McIntyre, vice president of the parents’ council, who alerted the district to Dunnigan’s letter. “You can’t tell me that if a teacher had written that to a parent in Williamsville, that teacher wouldn’t have been rode out of the district on a rail.”