An online comment on our story about what may or may not be a brewing controversy at a West Dundee school over teachers giving out candy and showing "Toy Story" during indoor recess:
"Oh the humanity ... candy and movies! If this teacher really wanted to motivate these kids she would offer them carrots and hardcover books. Good thing this lady reached out to the media and informed us all of these atrocities. Poor kid."
As I write this, I'd say a majority of the commenters aren't exactly siding with the parent who made a stink about a teacher at Dundee Highlands Elementary School rewarding students with candy and showing noneducational movies. Some suggested the mom get a life or volunteer at the school if she wants to effect some change. Others said parents can tell their kids to just say no to candy, and a few worried the child might be ostracized by her peers for putting the kibosh on treats.
To be sure, some lauded Jennifer Nickels for taking a stand against unhealthy treats. And, in a stunning development, some attempted to shoot the messenger, with a few commenters taking the time to write that our story wasn't news, while one individual took us to task mightily: "This is irresponsible reporting. This is an opinion piece with no counter argument addressed. Had Ms. Adkins done her job to interview anyone besides Mrs. Nickels, such as the principal, teacher or another parent in the class or at the school, the truth would have proved this article the pointless rubbish that it is."
I'd like to address that. As the story stated, we attempted repeatedly -- over three days, in fact -- to get Community Unit District 300's side of things. Reporter Lenore Adkins called the school a time or two, was referred to an associate superintendent, who didn't call back, either, then called and left written questions for the district's PR person. Again, no reply.
So, we ran the story Friday, using some of the email correspondence Nickels shared with us that gave some hint of how the district responded. It seems the district did take the matter seriously, indicating to Nickels it planned to survey parents on the matters of movies and candy. Nickels also said the movies and candy-dispensing were halted in her 7-year-old daughter's classroom.
So, exactly when does a matter such as this become news? Good question. Adkins discussed the issue with Fox Valley Editor Mike Smith, who advised that one parent's complaints might be insufficient grounds for a news story. Go get more, Smith advised. That's when Adkins learned that there apparently was a district response to the mom's gripes, and Smith gave the standard advice: Call the school, try to talk to the teacher, the principal and other district officials.
After three days of unsuccessful efforts, we ran the story, anyway. Was it the biggest, most important story of the day? Not by a long shot, but especially in viewing the number and vociferousness of the online comments, you realize a complaint about a teacher underscores issues of parental and teacher control, health, nutrition, discipline and the role of the school in molding young citizens.
This should have been a one-and-done story. It's not hard to imagine response from the district along these lines, "We respect a parent's opinion and we certainly want to provide a healthy environment. But we also must acknowledge many children enjoy the occasional treat, including candy and 'fun' movies during indoor recess in an exceptionally long winter. So we are asking parents who object to let teachers know their child should be discreetly omitted from the giving of candy and other treats the parent finds inappropriate."
And what seemed to be a routine story about one person's complaint might have unearthed a hot-button issue -- something worth pursuing with other school districts: How do they handle such matters? How much latitude do they give their teachers? Are there strict "no candy" policies anywhere? So, maybe we'll come back to this in a future story.
And, of course, we'll see if District 300 wants to weigh in.