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A Perfect Digital Storm


The Fairfax County Schools Snow Day Storm may sound like a tempest in a teapot, but snow days are a big deal up here in Northern Virginia where stay-at-home moms are rare, commutes are long, traffic is horrific, and snow is too infrequent to justify heavy public investment in snow removal equipment.

Thursday, January 17, was school transportation’s worst nightmare -- morning temperatures below freezing and rising into the high 30’s by the middle of the day, with snow starting around morning rush hour and ending sometime in the early afternoon. In the pre-dawn hours, after consulting with Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale, Chief Operating Officer for Transportation Dean Tistadt made the decision to send the buses out and the kids to school.

School superintendents understand (from experience) that the public often assesses their competence based on their ability to call snow days accurately. Fairfax County Schools is cognizant of this, and I was impressed with their thoughtful and thorough effort to address concerns and parents’ need to know. Their website devotes considerable information to emergency information and links to the Department of Facilities and Transportation page. This message from Mr. Tistadt is featured on that page.

This department is committed to delivering quality customer service by being responsive, flexible, innovative, and efficient. We are committed to effective communication to include ensuring that this web page includes up-to-date, relevant, and accurate information. We welcome your feedback and hope you find our web site an easy means by which you can obtain the services and information that you need. I encourage you to e-mail me.

A lot of people, including high school senior Devraj “Dave” Kori, didn’t agree with Mr. Tistadt's decision. During his lunch break at Braddock High School, Dave called Mr. Tistadt to let him know he thought it was a mistake. Apparently he called his office first and, not surprisingly, did not get a response. Dave then did what digital natives do, he moved on to the next level of contact. Dave looked up the home phone number for Mr. Tistadt and called his house. He left a message asking for a response and left his name and phone number because, according to the Washington Post:

He said his message was not intended to harass. He said that he tried unsuccessfully to contact Dean Tistadt at work and that he thought he had a basic right to petition a public official for more information about a decision that affected him and his classmates.

Mr. Tistadt didn’t get home first that night, his wife did, and she returned Dave’s call, leaving a voice message asking “how dare you call us at home,” referring to Fairfax County students as “snotty-nosed little brats,” and telling Dave to “get over it, kid, and go to school.” Dave posted the message for his friends on his Facebook page. When one of his friends turned the message into a YouTube video, Mrs. Tistadt’s message became an overnight Internet phenomenon, picked up and shared by the media across the country.

In Saturday's Washington Post update, Dave offered a partial apology:

"I'm sorry that this led to such embarrassment and harassment" for the Tistadt family, Kori said. He said he's also sorry that "this whole thing has shifted away from the issue of students not having a voice," a cause he said inspired him to doggedly pursue the administrator in the first place.

Dave will be serving a day of Saturday detention for violating the Student Code of Conduct’s cell phone use rules. He has taken down his Facebook page, but multiple YouTube versions of Candy Tistadt’s message, like dark feathers in the wind, cannot be retrieved.

While Dean Tistadt credited Kori for having the "courage of his convictions to stand up and be identified," he also says "There will be no apologies out of my family." He reasoned that while Kori's decision to post the message was "deliberately intended to provoke and taunt," his wife's response was emotionally driven.

There are lots of on-line discussions with opinions that range from “Dave is a brat and the personification of what’s wrong with these kids today” to “Mrs. Tistadt is a psycho and ought to be ashamed of herself.” While no one comes out of this looking real good, I tend to side with Dave. While his call may have overstepped the line between public and private lives, he used a published number. Mrs. Tistadt chose to respond and to leave the message to a call that was made to her husband, not her. But the public debate does raise these questions:

Did Mr. Kori invade the Tistadt’s privacy by accessing the home phone number and using it to leave a work related message?

Was Mrs. Tistadt out of line when she took it upon herself to make a personal response to a work related message for her husband?

Would she have done the same thing if the caller had identified himself as a parent and left a work number for a Washington law firm?

Did Mrs. Tistadt have an expectation of privacy when she returned the call and left a recorded message?

Was Dave Kori out of line by sharing Tistadt’s recorded message with his friends?

Would it have been different if he had shared it face to face rather than posting it on his Facebook page?

Did Kori’s friend overstep the right to privacy (of Tistadt or of Kori) by posting the message on YouTube?

What responsibility does the media have for turning this into a major news story rather than passing it off as an immature mistake by a 17 year old and an impulsive overreaction by a middle aged woman?

Who is villain and who is victim here? I think Marc Fisher of The Post said it well:

Every once in a while, a story confronts us with just how deeply divided we are -- and how little we realize it.... (T)here are no good guys. There is only a confrontation with the gulfs that separate digital kids from analog parents and new concepts of community from old notions of responsibility.

For better or worse, the world is shrinking in terms of our ability to communicate and expanding in terms of what information is being shared. When we find ourselves on opposite sides of the digital divide I would offer this piece of advice from my goddaughter. Everyone here needs to BMBGOI (Build Me a Bridge and Get Over It!).


Bravo, Susan for your thoughtful and balanced discussion of this story. I love the questions you pose at the end. A wonderful example (which I plan to use with my students) of the critical thinking we claim we want our students to learn and do.

great analysis of the situation, susan. having been a product of the sixties, i recall "questioning authority" and now that i am "the authority", i value what our children have to say and think. what a great lesson for us to consider.

Susan asked:
Would she have done the same thing if the caller had identified himself as a parent and left a work number for a Washington law firm?

In many ways, I think this is the best question in your list, Susan---primarily because I think we all know that the answer is no.

And that's disturbing to me. Adults---and educators---often feel like they can "control" kids completely and show little tolerance for students in almost every situation. That open disrespect has permeated conversations about high schoolers for a long while now.

It's almost impossible to get into a conversation about kids and not hear "how the kids of today" are nothing like "the kids of yesterday."

And that constant groaning has turned students off completely. The divide between adults and kids is growing and the disaffection that we're seeding now is only damaging our attempts to educate.

Interesting thoughts...

Actually, I think the best line in Susan's column is: School superintendents understand (from experience) that the public often assesses their competence based on their ability to call snow days accurately.

But then, I live in Michigan, where snow days occur far more frequently. The wide airplay on this incident (and that's what it is, a rather insignificant incident) speaks volumes about the issues that capture the public imagination. Raising student achievement too difficult? Not sure how to reinvent schools to better meet the needs of a new kind of student? Well--let's focus on whether it actually snows when the National Weather Service says it will, and then pass judgment on the hapless person whose job at this point amounts to educated guessing.

Let's hope Dave Kors eventually puts his communication skills to good use and becomes a reporter Education Week.

The outcome of this situation hits home because I am also a teacher. Personally, I don't think I'd ever call the superintendent at work or at home - if I were to make communication it would be via email.

I like the boldness of the act of the student and I agree he is able to make the call since the number is published. He made no special efforts to locate the number. He has a right to his opinion. Was his message offensive or just a statement of feelings?

The wife really had no reason to return the call and I believe she was out of line. She isn't in that role for the school system, the message wasn't for her, etc. Her husband, as we can clearly see, was able to make the call himself when he got home. Acting out of emotions will never yield positive results.

No reason to be surprised about the media's reaction to all of this. We all know the media likes to bring things like this to the forefront rather than focusing on issues that we can change and/or do something about today. The situation you have outlined so perfectly is really between the student and the superintendent - it's really none of our business anymore at this point.

Was this woman having a bad day or is she just plain stupid? Once words leave your mouth, they're no longer considered private but part of the public domain, especially voice mail. Once she hung up, that message belonged to the student to do with what he chooses. If a parent had called instead of the student, I will guarantee the wife's response would not have been so rude.

I think we all would be better off if children were sharing their issues with their parents and let parents make decisions about calling administrators. Minor children need to submit to those with greater experience in life,not act independently of those individuals with the legal responsibility to guide, direct, and educate these offspring. We have rampant disrespect with its consequent social issues in this country partly due to adults who do not thoughtfully assume their roles as parents, educators, law makers, etc. If young people do not have role models they trust to make the right decisions on their behalf, they launch out on their own bungling way to create havoc, not resolve problems. Children are invisible before the law until they reach emancipation. Adults must take the reigns by taking parenting and educating our youth much more seriously.Children, and how to rear them, is not an afterthought that is dealt with after the problems begin. This article's topic is the tip of the ice burg of real problems that face our nation as we continue to struggle with how to guide, direct, and "control" our head-strung youth.

Well said to Ms. Mintz! Her comments seem to be the ones which cut to the core of this issue. What gives this student the right to do what he did? His vast "life" experience, or his vast experience with weather and transportation? In any organization there has to be a chain of command and it must be used properly or you get chaos. Can you imagine the outcome if Dave had been an entry level worker in any company and had called one of the senior executive's home to lodge a complaint? I think Dave would have been looking for a new job, so what have we taught Dave in this incident? As to the issue of respect, why does any teacher need to "respect" a student? What has that student done to EARN that respect? A teacher should be "civil" to all students, but unless they have done something deserving of respect then they shouldn't get it because they can fog a mirror. Conversely or at least until proven otherwise through actions, a teacher or administrator DESERVES a student's respect for the accomplishments that teacher/administrator has which placed them in the position they hold ie. graduated from HS, graduated from college, continued their education, successfully held jobs, managed families, all things which a 14-18 year old hasn't done yet. Ms. Mintz is correct in her observations and this incident was just another example of how our society is breaking down.

Whoa! I was following all the comments and seeing some merit in each of them until I got to Edward's.

Sure, Kori's decision to call a home number was rash and poorly thought-out. Eighteen-year-olds are like that sometimes. But at least he took personal responsibility by giving his name and number. And it was, all things considered, completely harmless. No "chaos" apparently ensued in Fairfax County.

And Mr. DeMartini's view of respect is right out of the Middle Ages. Many of us (in the 21st Century) believe that respect is due to every human being, despite his or her shortcomings or low social status. If someone charged with teaching children can only force themselves to be "civil" -- as opposed to respectful -- to young adults, then they are in the wrong business.

Treating people with respect doesn't mean treating them all the same. Children need limits, and they need guidance from adults. Certainly, Mrs. Tistadt proved that she is not best person to provide that kind of guidance. I'm not sure which is worse: her mean spiritedness or her stupidity. She should be serving detention with Kori.

As far as our society "breaking down", that song has been playing for generations. Consider the quote attributed to Socrates that begins, "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise." Whether Socrates actually said it or not is up in the air, but he very well could have.

So, yeah, Edward. Get over it.

You're correct about Socrates, but should remember that less than 100 years following his death, his city was conquered by the "barbarian" Macedonians. In a world that grows smaller by the day through technology, I doubt we have 100 years.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Edward DeMartini: You're correct about Socrates, but should remember that less than read more
  • Wayne B.: Whoa! I was following all the comments and seeing some read more
  • Edward DeMartini: Well said to Ms. Mintz! Her comments seem to be read more
  • Kathy Mintz: I think we all would be better off if children read more
  • Susan Bedingfield: Was this woman having a bad day or is she read more




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