A public relations disaster

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2013

To the editor:

Many years after he was the coach while I was at Suffolk High School, the Driver Elementary School pencil incident compelled me to write to Michael Debranski.

Mr. Debranski was always a down-to-earth, no-nonsense, commonsense source of inspiration to me, even if I appeared a bit of a trifling student at Suffolk High and, perhaps, acted indifferently towards his role in my developing years. So I was glad to read of his comments to The Virginian-Pilot’s Kerry Dougherty this morning, reinforcing my sensibilities about the man I knew so long ago.

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At the same time, I am not terribly surprised by Bethanne Bradshaw’s vapid and inane defense of the Suffolk City School’s position in the matter, fully recognizing that she was “simply” doing her job. How she could do that with a straight face must somehow be a credit to her skills, if not to her lack of any imagination.

From my perspective, the public response to this unfortunate, embarrassing situation has been truly universal, if not overwhelming. And, judging from Mr. Debranski’s comments, I would have to conclude that he also sees how ridiculous it was for the school to suspend two students for pretending their pencils were machine guns.

While the Suffolk City School system cannot flip over every criticism it may be subject to, this matter presents a unique and critical opportunity for the School Board and Superintendent Deran Whitney to grab the bull by the horns and jointly acknowledge that the handling of this episode was epically boneheaded.

Besides being the right thing to do, doing so will defuse the abject, national ridicule and scorn by which the city is currently being smeared.

This can be accomplished without impugning the parties involved. Perhaps, the principal can join in the acknowledgement. But I must implore the school system that it must be done quickly. A delay would only compound the problem.

To act otherwise will only serve to continue to make the schools — and the city — appear disconnected from any reality that the vast majority of us experience. The public schools exist to serve the common good. But for the school system to persist in suggesting that nothing is amiss turns common sense on its head.

Patrick Pierce