The first few weeks of school are often an adjustment period during which kids and teachers make introductions, establish classroom rules, and figure out important things they’ll need to know about one another in order to have a successful school year. Sometimes teachers send home introduction letters to let parents know unique information, like their favorite book or a type of food they love. Other times, the things they reveal are way more strange.
Some parents of third and fourth grade students at Englewood Elementary are having a major WTF moment this week after their child’s teacher, Amy Brannon, sent home an information packet with a one-page letter about her crippling fear of snakes and how students and parents can help her cope.
It turns out Brannon is just not afraid of snakes. Rather, she has a full on phobia that causes mental and emotional responses so severe that administrators go out of their way to ensure she never even teaches students who have pet snakes at home. Additionally, she requests that students never wear or bring anything into class with pictures or illustrations of snakes, and she asks that they avoid checking out library books about snakes. She also told students that if they have a pet snake at home and somehow ended up in her class anyway, they should notify her immediately so she can have them transferred out of her room.
Parents were understandably perplexed by the letter and voiced concerns that the teacher’s classroom policies were exclusionary to certain kids, but a representative for the school district, Lisa Harlan, said they have no plans to make changes or apologize. According to Harlan, the letter has been going home with students for the past nine years without any complaints from parents and it’s not out of line for students to be expected to accommodate her condition.
“It’s preference versus condition,” Harlan told the Statesman Journal. “This is a condition. There are plenty of kids with different conditions and allergies that we deal with, but I draw the line at catering to preferences.”
While I empathize with what the principal is saying about conditions versus preferences, I have to wonder how this woman goes about the rest of her daily life. It’s almost impossible to avoid 100 percent of all contact with something, even if you’re really careful. Plus, her policies seem a little nonsensical to me.
If you want to make your classroom a safe space, I’m all for that. What I’m unsure of is whether or not it really needs to involve removing students who have pet snakes at home. If students agree to avoid talking about snakes in class or bringing things into the classroom that will trigger her fears, isn’t that enough? Do they really need to be treated like Lepers because they happen to know and love a dreaded serpent?
Brannon deserves to be accommodated as much as any other person, but kicking kids out of class borders on extreme. Kids should, of course, be empathetic and respect her rules, but it’s possible that in trying to protect herself, she’s slithered too far off the deep end.