Disgusting

Hi Readers — Here’s today’s hint of the coming apocalypse. This sign:

And here’s the note I got, alerting us all to it:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I was visiting a dear friend yesterday in a nearby town and drove by this sign.  I was so shocked by it I had to stop and take a picture.  I wondered what on earth it could be about – perhaps the school district is getting rid of background checks for employees?  Perhaps volunteers don’t need background checks and fingerprinting?  Perhaps the door to the school would be left open and unlocked for the day?  I figured none of that would be true.

Turns out the story is that the school district is considering privatizing the custodial staff in order to save money.  Sure this can be disruptive and hard to accept and distressing for those involved, but calling future employees “Strangers” and insinuating that somehow they are evil?  Come on.  I’m sure that the people they would employ would have all the necessary back ground checks,  etc.,  that one needs to work in a school.  Perhaps the new employees would even be residents of the school community!  Does that make them dangerous “Strangers”?

Talk about fear mongering.  I think this is a disgusting campaign, no matter what the reasoning behind it. — Deborah Halliday Mills

Me too! Not only because EVERYONE is a stranger until we get to know them, but also because this is automatically equating stranger with danger. As if it’s official: Absolutely anyone you don’t know is out to get your kids. Ugh. — L

55 Responses

  1. It’s just a guess but my bet would be that if you followed the trail of money behind these signs you would end up at a union office.

  2. Yep, the first thing I thought of is “Well, why haven’t you gotten to know them?”

    just lazy complaining…. get up a introduce yourselves!!

  3. Politics. I wish it would at least leave our little kids alone.

    As if all school employees, especially custodians, are so (a) child-friendly and (b) well-known to the community.

    Actually, I still remember “Mr. Tony,” the guy who used to clean my elementary school. It was a parochial school and there was no union there. I guess I was in immediate danger all the time, and never knew it.

  4. Uh, what?

  5. That’s entirely irrationally insane. People are “strangers” if they work for a contractor but not if the school district signs their paychecks?

  6. But I’m absolutely certain Tim C. is right. Not even the most paranoid parent would come up with this line of thinking on their own.

  7. I remember the Janitor in grade school. One of his “jobs” every year was to play Santa for the Kindergarten class. In 6th grade had been an early bloomer, I was bigger than almost every kid in the school and a few of the adults, and as it happened, I was about the same size as the Janitor. So I guess I was in great danger when he stopped me in the hall once and asked me if I wanted to play Santa for the Kindergarten kids, as he was going to be gone that week. An to think the perils the kids and I were put in. I mean first an adult having little 5 year olds sitting on his lap, in school, and then ask a 12yo boy to let little 5yos sit on his lap in school, OH MY.

  8. Wait, everyone we don’t know is a danger. And most sexual abuse is perpetrated by people we know.

    We must all be raised in isolation from here on out.

    As an aside, my great aunt was the custodian in my grade school. You better believe I cleaned up after my self…

  9. “I’m sure that the people they would employ would have all the necessary back ground checks, etc., that one needs to work in a school. Perhaps the new employees would even be residents of the school community! ”

    Some of them would almost certainly be *the same people* as before, since their school district jobs would likely be eliminated and they might be offered preference in hiring as part of the service contract, as least initially.

  10. The most irrational part of it is, many people who believe in “stranger danger”, don’t realize that statistically, abductions and assaults are done by people the child already knows. Family friends, teachers, priests, even family members. I guess for some, it’s easier to blame someone they don’t know, than someone they do. Even if they know it’s happening under their noses. Baffling the lack of common sense some people have.

  11. Disgusting. Sorry “L” that’s all this “L” has today. Disgusting.

    Okay, I do have a little bit more–if I were the vandalistic type (or still a teenager etc), I’d graffiti-up that sign with “freerangekids.com” written in the corner to counteract it. I’m not condoning that sort of retaliation, just saying.

    Still–yes, digusting.

    LRH

  12. I’m wondering whether all this worry about ‘stranger danger’ is because the current generation of parents was the first to really grow up with that drummed into them. I remember all the cartoon adverts we used to get on British TV back in the 70s, warning kids not to go off with strangers, which wasn’t something my parents’ generation had had growing up. Maybe all those early warnings just served to make kids paranoid as adults.

  13. Where I work the custodial contractor changed. Only one actual custodian changed. I agree this campaign is probably a union not wanting to give up control and preying on the “stranger danger” instinct.

  14. Well, to sort of play devil’s advocate here, I think there’s a point to be made about having the employees of a school district be part of the same “family” from top to bottom. I’ve seen some examples of privatization where the turnover is high, and the quality of the employees and their dedication to the institution is far more tenuous because of the contracting relationship. And I think of the school custodians I knew growing up, who were well known, who were part of the adult disciplinary layer in the school, and who generally were well-respected by the kids. I think you lose that with contractors. I wouldn’t want a stranger in my school, and that has nothing to do with being afraid.

    Maybe we’re seeing “Stranger Danger” here in the campaign because that’s the lens we choose to look through.

  15. In fact, I’d like to turn the tables here, after giving this some more thought. Isn’t what we want, in general, a kind of community of trust that having strong employee relationships as part of the institutions around us fosters? I think the whole idea of turning increasingly more parts of our public service over to private contractors actually increases the kind of alienation between parties that sows mistrust and fear and overreaction.

    Maybe the campaign here is trying to reduce that to a single slogan, and maybe it’s preying upon the stranger-danger fears, and that’s unfortunate. But let’s not also lose sight of the fact that when we treat everybody — especially employees of schools — as mere interchangeable cogs, we’re also teaching a lesson to our children. There’s a point here that I think is not quite in synch with the general tenor of this site.

  16. I’m sorry, Matt, even granting your points, the word “Stranger” is just too loaded to be there without any intended reference to “stranger danger,” especially in the context of “strangers in the schools!!!!!!!! Oh my!”

    Your points may be worth making but that sign is doing something else entirely, and the people who put it up must be aware of it.

  17. BTW, I think you have a rather romantic view of the relationship between government and government employees, but that’s probably an argument for another time.

  18. As a school employee I see the other employees as family. There are a lot of politics I see behind the slogan, trying to show all staff as family. (Many of our night custodians have kids in our school for example)

  19. I sort of agree with Matt here. However, it’s really sad that parents are expected to respond better to this campaign/strategy than to another, say… “Let’s all get some more money together to save Mr. Fixit’s job”.
    And I wonder how many parents would consider “Mr. Fixit” a stranger if they saw him on a weekend, talking with their kids…

  20. I love that there is a campaign to save a (I am assuming here) well paying job for the custodian. I have no problem with the idea that the funder of this campaign is a public employee’s union. That’s what unions are for.

    The custodians at my schools growing up were part of the school community. If you made a mess, you were doing something that made a real person’s life worse. We kids understood that and acted accordingly (most of us). Also, I love the custodian at my kid’s school. He’s a real treasure and seems to be a very valued member of the school family.

    I hate that this campaign is appealing to stranger danger. It appeals to our worst fears, it’s easily trumped by facts, and it misses the very real issues that we have addressed. On the other hand, appealing to a community to pay, out of pocket, to protect another person’s job (especially a government job) does not seem like the most likely way to be successful in our current political climate. It also isn’t easily reduced to a slogan. …. sigh …..

  21. I am with Matt. You guys are reading this one wrong.

    The point is that outsourcing these services leads to revolving staffing instead of individuals who are part of the community. The sign is rallying support for the school’s longtime staff.

    I dont think the fear has to be that the outsourced revolving staff would do something bad but rather that there wont be a friend there to let you in to get a forgotten book late at night. Its just one more part of the village gone who might take more pride/care more about making sure things are fixed, safe and clean. One more person gone who might intercede if a kid is being bullied, or trying a smoke, or lost, or sad.

  22. An easy campaign and understandable: In a note sent home to parents simply state: As our government has asked you to do, we here at the school are doing the same. On their next visit to school, please equip your child with broom, dustpan and mop. Custodial services are no longer being provided.

  23. Unless your child goes to a high-cost low-enrollment private school I don’t see how at least 75% of the kids, teachers, administration and staff aren’t “strangers” to them. The whole public school system is based on the industrial model of economies of scale and the specialization of the assembly line. If you don’t think all involved (including the kids) are replaceable cogs that get replaced all the time then you might have a rather romantic view of the public school system in this country. I’m not saying kids can’t or don’t have close, long term and healthy relationships with other kids, teachers, and staff. I’m just saying it’s a by-product of putting people together in the same space rather than the goal of public education. And even if I don’t see public education as a shining example of how to do it, I don’t see how “contractors” are any different from other employees except in what their paperwork looks like. I mean, unless the school district is contracting with the local prison system for janitors with violent criminal records, I don’t see the difference between a “contractor” and an “employee”.

  24. Oh wait, the child might get hurt with the broom the dustpan, or the mop. They could poke an eye out.

  25. Interesting.

    Just out of curiosity, if you have a child in school, do you know the school custodian’s (-s’) by name(s)? Does your child?

    If you work in an office, do you know the name(s) of the custodian(s) there?

    My child’s not in school yet, so I can’t answer the school question. I do know my office building’s maintenance man’s first (but not last) name. I don’t know our custodian’s name (she works at night, I generally don’t).

  26. @kalinda: Most of us here have grown up watching those after school specials. But it would seem that we took it to educate ourselves and not over come ourselves with fear. I guess it’s really a question of how will you let certain things affect you. Looks like there are some in our generation that have let fear and paranoia over take their lives as children and carried on to adulthood. Which they are more than likely passing on to their kids.

    @Matt: there is logic in some of what you say. But it also means they are shunning out people. Making the “community” and exclusive membership deal. Which really isn’t a community in how most of us see here. My idea of a community is everyone standing together to make a better life for everyone, including newcomers (strangers). And if anyone should fall out of line, the community as a whole work together to solve the issue. Not start cutting certain people off. Plus, I’ve also found that companies/businesses who take on that “family” approach within their ranks, there are those in the “family” that tend to take advantage. Yes they are well known, and for the most part are liked. But there are those that abuse that and end up doing less work, quality of service goes down, more excuses, etc… Because the notion of being fired becomes less in a “family” oriented environment. Even to the point that the employers may feel obligated or sorry for the person when they can’t give them a raise, or have to let them go because they aren’t doing the job. Contract workers on the other hand, are just that contract. If they can’t do the job as expected, they are let go and someone more qualified gets hired, without feeling bad per say.

  27. Does this mean that new students are not welcome either? Geez! Way to bring on the hate and fear in one sign.

  28. I agree with whoever said that it is likely that the same people will be doing the custodial work, just under new management. Now…if they don’t pay as well or have the same perks, it may change. But keeping the current system wouldn’t guarantee that either, especially if there are budget issues. It’s a political issue. People are all for saving money until it actually affects them.

  29. Sorry I’ll have to quit posting here. Everyone here is a stranger and I’m a vulnerable, impressionable 34 year old single male😉

  30. lol, thats true once. problem is everyone seems to be getting stranger and stranger.

  31. Brian — why is someone more or less likely to be helpful to a kid because of whose name is on his paycheck, working in an identical environment?

  32. Doesnt everyone love their school custodian? I did as a kid. Fred was ours and he was a huge guy. Literally the biggest man I had ever met! Then there was Mario…. My kids one is called Lance. Mr lance climbs trees to get balls down and off the roof, he is like a valet at the drive thru to drop your kids off. He gets their bag and helps them out of the car. Funny at first I (wrongly) was a little worried about him because he was oldish, has longish grey shaggy hair, wears baggy jeans and flip flops!! But he is so cool and all the kids love him.

    Oprah (here in Australia) this week aired a show /documentary called “Waiting for Superman” about the state of american schools. It was very interesting and had me crying.

  33. Because a custodial service does not assign a person to work at a school for decades. They move staff between clients. There is also a big difference between working a union custodian job with benefits and hourly work for a temp agency. The turnover is greater as a result.

    With the big staffing services you may not get the same people working for a single client for a month much less a school year or decade.

    We should do all we can to retain teachers and staff for long periods. It builds community, trust and a community to raise our children. Its about kids, teachers and staff all knowing each other over the course of years.

    Familiar figures who help raise our children is not replaceable by bringing in a cleaning service. I also believe that having longtime staff encourages kids to clean up more, respect the facility more and respect the staff more.

  34. Wait a second – for all this talk about “school family,” don’t they lay off all the un-tenured teachers every Spring and leave them praying to be hired back again (or find a job in a private school) until next fall? That’s what they do around here. I’m not buying the “family” stuff, but it’s a nice thought.

    I apologize to myself and everyone else for “biting” on the political aspect of this discussion. Shame on me.

  35. More reading;

    http://www.northjersey.com/news/education/107141323_Cleaning_up_without_outsourcing.html

    “Negotiations between the school board and the Kinnelon Education Association (KEA) resulted in a tentative agreement to keep the district’s custodians on staff at least until the next round of collective-bargaining contract negotiations come up on June 30. ”

    So yes, Union supported… specifically the KEA

  36. I was at a public meeting recently where an economist explained that there is a very discernable and deliberate move across many sectors AWAY from stable jobs with benefits and TOWARDS contracting to fill staffing needs through third party agencies. Today its school janitors, tomorrow it may well be your job.

  37. @kcs, if they could find a way to offshore it, they would.

  38. @Alexicographer – My kids attend public school. Their custodian is named Jeff, and my kids know him by name. He also knows their names (and mine).

    I work in a 6 story multi tenant office building that has about 500 people. The custodian is an employee of the management company and is named Javier. He doesn’t know my name, but knows my face and jokes with me.

    My situation probably isn’t typical. But I don’t think it’s exactly rare either.

  39. Fear is a LCD – Lowest Common Denominator. You should never be surprised when someone uses fear to try and save their job or sell you something.
    Remember the snowball maker marketed as a “safer” way to make snowballs. I can just hear the investors in the marketing discussion: “We can sell these cool snowball making things but parents aren’t really going to grab them unless we market the FEAR ANGLE”

  40. I teach in an Elementary school with 650 – 700 kids.

    I teach 4th grade. Most of the lower grade kids know my name, they know I’m the Geek teacher with the cool stuff in my class.

    My students know the custodian’s name. Yesterday when they were building their instruments as part of our sound unit – they spilled beans on the floor. The runnners said “Ms. Herbert we need to go get the broom and dust pan from Ms. Michaela and then did just that.

  41. I knew all the janitors in the schools I attended or worked at at least by face if not name.

    At least one of those schools used an outside company, and while the janitor did change, it was due to her own employment change, not a decision of the service company.

    Keep in mind that a contracted company doesn’t mean that the employees are contract. Oftentimes, the employees are full-time employees of the service company, complete with benefits typical of the level of job being performed. The only contracting that is going on is between the service company and its clients.

    For example, my husband works for a company that provides the staff augmentation services to other companies. He’s full time (W2) for the service company and gets good health insurance (he gets screwed on paid time off, but that’s because of the company, if he worked for one of the other service companies, he’d get PTO). He’s worked at the same client company for over a year and a half now.

    kcs – This has gone on in the tech industry for years. I’ve gone to freelancing because no one likes to hire software developers outright. They always do “contract to hire” and generally forget about the “to hire” part, or let the people go before they get to the end of the “contract” part.

  42. I don’t have kids yet, but hope to some day. At my place of work, my janitor’s names are: Me. Myself and I. They are quite lazy, and do a poor job of keeping everything cleaned and organized. I’d fire them but I can’t find anyone who will work cheaper, except for kids, when I have a few.😀

  43. SKL,
    Must be regional differences. I’m in Texas a right to work state. There is no such thing as a tenured teacher here. Every March we get our contracts and sign them or not. I’ve taught at the same school for 10 years and only seen two teachers not be renewed. (40 – 50 teachers a year depending on SPED programs housed at our school).

    Both those teachers were on improvement plans and did not follow them. One teacher did not take a required class (paid for by the district on district time).

    The other yikes! Was on an improvement plan. Followed it. Got off – went right back to her old ways. Tried to transfer in district but had a reputation and no one would hire her. Was put on a 2nd improvement plan.

    Now there is a law here. If my position at my school is eliminated because of a lack of students, they can not hire another teacher for a position I’m qualified to take without giving me first refusal even if it is another school in the district.

    She got this turned around in her head. She didn’t follow the 2nd improvement plan, because she was bound and determined that if Principal didn’t renew her, they would have to give her an open position at another school that she was qualified for.

    She told me and several other teachers about this plan. Every one of us tried to explain that wasn’t how it worked. She said the “union” would protect her. We told her No the association lets you get insurance for malpractice but there are no Teacher Unions like that in Texas.

    Cue big surprise when she was told she could resign or not be renewed. She demanded that she be transferred and the head of the Art Department told her NO that isn’t how it worked.

    This led to her giving away the whole music room. Teachers were taking instruments and costumes way from students left and right and turning them into the principal. Her room was inventoried and she was told 1 thing missing and she would be arrested for theft.

    Want to make things really awkward – She was a good friend of my cousin. Then she tried to trash talk about me to cousin – who cut her off right there.

  44. It doesn’t even make sense. Unless the current custodians work until the end of time, at some point there will be new people no matter who hires them. What then? Should the community really be considering 98 year old janitors, or is there some point of logic here I am not seeing?

  45. I think the poster is stupid because even if they weren’t going for the stranger danger angle, it should have been obvious to someone that that’s how it would come across. And obviously if they were going for the stranger danger angle, it’s insane because every single member of staff is a stranger at one point.

    But I can see the virtue of wanting to save the jobs of a familiar figure at the school, and for some reason it seems like a lot of people have very fond memories of their elementary school janitor. If the kind of contracting we’re talking about would involve an endless rotation of nameless custodians, I could get behind community support for the familiar, friendly guy/gal almost everyone in the school knows. I’d need more information to make a judgment call on that front.

    (I went to an elementary school of 350 kids, btw, and even though I haven’t thought about it in at least 12 years, I can still remember our janitor’s name and general appearance. He played Santa for us too, actually!)

  46. When I was in school, kindly Mr. Gray was the custodian and Mr. Grey was the bus driver. They doubled as spelling lessons.

    When my kids were in school, “Mike” was the custodian. We lived next door to the school grounds, so I don’t know how bus drivers were addressed.

    We were taught to address adult teachers and custodians formally, respectfully.

    My kids were taught Teachers were to be formally addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”, but custodians, although often twice the teacher’s age, were addressed by their first name by the kids…Jeff, Mike, Karen. Teachers and Principal were formal, custodians and lunch ladies were the kid’s peers.

    I was never a boat rocker to ask what that was about…

  47. Back when I was in elementary school (when desks still had inkwells), our relatively small school had an all-women faculty. But we did have a janitor who was rather athletic and would teach the boys how to catch a football, swing a bat, etc. One thing I remember about him was that the top of one of his ears was missing. Since World War II had ended just a few years earlier, I imagined a close escape from enemy gunfire, but never did hear the story. (my Memory Lane gets longer every day)

  48. Fear is the new sex, it sells.

  49. Government/union workers are kind, caring and a village, while private workers are strangers and abductors? Bizarre….

  50. Our school district in NJ privatized custodial staff last year to save money. There was a huge outcry from some parents and from the teachers/teacher’s union against it, largely in the form of fearmongering. The transition went ahead anyway, as the areas to cut short of actual curriculum are diminishing, and lo and behold, the issue went away. I haven’t heard a single word one way or the other since it was implemented, which suggests it was a non-issue.

  51. Yeah, this isn’t a free-range issue so much as an example of union hackery at its best. There was a similar move to privatize school custodians here in New Haven. The Union put up billboards all over town stating “Privatization = Corruption!” Talk about irony. This only demonstrates the lengths that public employee unions will go to in protecting their interests. They don’t have any substantive argument to support their bloated salaries and pensions, so they must resort to lying and fear mongering. No news here.

  52. An interesting incident occured in my city. Before school had started, a 23 year old man walked into an elementary school and told a vice principal that he wanted to harm children. This principal sensed that the man was looking for help and invited him in to his office to talk to him. He talked it over with the man who even gave him the knife he had brought. The man went peacefully with police. At our local newspaper’s website, there are debates in the comments about whether or not this was the right way to approach this incident. Of course this is full of what if’s and protecting children. I think they are all paranoid and the principal deserves some recognition for his brave actions.

    The story can be found here- http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/280325–man-wanders-into-school-wants-to-hurt-kids

    Warning, over protective parents ahead in the comments.

  53. […] Disgusting Hi Readers — Here’s today’s hint of the coming apocalypse. This sign: […]

  54. I’m reminded of the scene in Forrest Gump where he gets on the school bus for the first time:

    Bus Driver: Are you comin’ along?

    Forrest: Momma said not to be taking rides from strangers.

    Bus Driver: This is the bus to school.

    Forrest: I’m Forrest Gump.

    Bus Driver: I’m Dorothy Harris.

    Forrest: Well, now we ain’t strangers anymore.

  55. Just to start off. I’m 14. I live in Arizona. This is my dad’s email address. I’m not allowed to give you mine.

    I read that thing on Stranger Danger and I have to tell you something funny that happened to us. So, like that one kid, a woman came to our school to talk to us about being approached by strangers. She told us that men are strangers and we should never trust a man. I said WAIT! I’m going to be a man one day. “So?” she said. I asked he why we can’t trust me when I grow up. She told me that it is abnormal for men to like children and it always ends up with little boys being molested. “WTH? Who are you,” I asked. She told me she was an authority, he name was blah blah blah.

    The next day she came back to our school to talk to the 6th, 7th, & 8th grade kids and I was ready. With a little question I managed to find her name. With a lie I found her birthdate. With a Blackberry I took her a picture of her car plate. And 5 minutes and $22.95 I got the scoop on our protector.

    I found out that she was Dorothy Emily XXXXXXX and she has:
    1. An expired driver’s license and car plates.
    2. She was divorced 5 times to four different men.
    3. She was arrested for prostitution in 1968 & 1972.
    4. She served 2 years in prison 1987-1989.
    5. Why? She was found guilty of forging checks.
    6. She stole a female stimulator in 1979.
    7. She served 364 days in Dallas County Jail.
    8. Has 2 open civil cases in Baltimore, MD.
    9. They are: Theft and Failure to pay State Taxes.

    So I am wondering how this person has the right to tell me that she is so pure and clean and that all boys and men are evil criminals and future convicts.

    I posted the results of my database search on the locked church bulletin board for all to see. She was mad. She never finished that speech.

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