The scariest part about sending questions to an advice column is how much your problems reveal about you as a person. I assume, anyway. I mean, I’ve certainly never put myself on the line like that. I bottle my problems up and pretend they don’t exist. I’m from New England — we repress shit. But I CAN say, as the person on the receiving end of your inquiries…
I think I love today’s advice-seeker.
[Reminder: You too can expose yourself to us by sharing your inner thoughts and deepest concerns! Just drop us a question at [email protected]. Please note: this is NOT an invitation to expose anything more, uh, physical to us via email. We can’t help you with those kinds of problems…]
Here’s today’s epic question, about a situation that is baffling, specific, and oddly infuriating:
One of my children currently attends a public technology/science magnet school. It is considered prestigious to attend this school, and there is a lottery system to enter it. However, there is no mistaking the fact that it is 100% publicly funded.
My husband works long hours, and I work a little less long hours, so a recent letter to us (and other guilty miscreants with the same offense) from the principal caught us by surprise.
Like all schools, this one encourages family/parent volunteerism. Yay! We are all for volunteerism too! However, this year has been particularly busy and we hadn’t gotten around to completing all of the “suggested” hours yet.
This letter, signed by the principal, stated the current number of volunteer hours we have on record for this year, and the fact that we are not meeting the volunteer requirement. Fine, so far, sort of. If they had just sort of pleaded and tried to appeal to our sense of school community, I would not be composing this email.
Instead, they threatened in the letter that if we fail to meet the “requirement” of volunteer hours, that it will affect our child’s prospects for enrollment next year.
That is illegal.
According the the Department of Education in my state, a school cannot require parents to volunteer as a condition of enrollment.
This is where my husband and I diverge.
He says that of course we are going to meet the hour requirement, so why do I even care about the letter? He thinks we should just finish our hours and that the letter is no big deal.
I, on the other hand, would like to file a complaint (a form is on the ACLU website that you can submit anonymously to either the principal or the school district). I would like to stand up for my rights, and I hate when large school districts refuse to play by the rules and think that they can get away with things such as illegally threatening to dis-enroll a child from a school.
My husband is horrified, and thinks that I am overreacting because there is no way to enforce the rule. And that if they were to ever somehow find out it was me, that it would hurt our child’s standing at the school. Because nobody likes a shit-stirrer. Apparently.
We like the school. We like the principal. This is really the only problem we I have with the school.
Should I submit the form? Or am I truly just making a big deal out of nothing?
I’m Fine With a Little Shit-Stirring
DAMNNNNNN. Is your kid enrolled in classes at the Park Slope Food Co-op or something? Look, I don’t have a kid, and I am largely unfamiliar with the ins and outs of interacting with public schools as a parent. I mean, back in my day the students were the ones on the hook for all the lame-ass fundraising schemes (which is what I’m assuming these “volunteer” hours mostly amount to). So based on your description, all I can say is that THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOME FUCKING BULLSHIT.
As far as I’m concerned, you’re paying the taxes that fund the school. You have to work to earn the money to pay those taxes. Which means that it’s in the school’s interests to respect your damn time! Not to mention the fact that this kind of “rule” would likely place a disproportionately large burden on single-parent households. Besides, what the fuck is your tax money paying for if the school needs so much additional help it has to resort to blackmail to get it? It only takes a handful of people to chaperone a school trip or dance. Are the rest of the parents picking up shifts dishing out cold mac & cheese in the cafeteria or something?
(and as Dan pointed out: if it’s required are you even still a volunteer?)
Look — as long as your child has earned his/her/their enrollment, and isn’t failing academically to the point where that enrollment could be rescinded, then enrollment should be a separate issue from your suggested/required volunteer efforts. But to be fair, I’m not sure what state you’re in or what the official rules of your school are, so I’m taking your word on… well, everything about this situation. But you seem like a swell person, and I don’t think you’d lie to me. You wouldn’t, right? We trust each other? Cool, cool.
Point is, the letter you received was tactless and the threat implied was likely empty. HOWEVER, this isn’t about you or your husband — this is about your kid. Do you want to stake your child’s education on this matter? Is it worth risking next year’s enrollment, putting a target on your child’s back in the eye of the school’s administration, or impacting the college application process all for a matter of principle with the principal? If it were me… hell, I’d still probably stir that shit up and use it as a valuable teaching opportunity FOR my kid, because if you’re right and what they’re doing is illegal then BURN IT DOWN. But that’s easy for me to say — I don’t even have kids. And your husband is right too. If you’re going to complete the hours anyway, maybe it isn’t worth the hassle.
Whatever you decide to do, it needs to be in agreement with your husband AND your kid, as far as I’m concerned. Because as parents, you and your husband should be on the same page. And at the end of the day, it’s your child’s education that hangs in the balance here.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you get them both to buy into your scheme to prove a point to this school. The ACLU letter is a neat idea, but you don’t know how many parents received the same kind of threat from the school that you did. Even if the letter is sent anonymously, the school still could have a fairly good idea of who it came from if there are only a handful of parents who are behind on their volunteer hours. If you WERE to send it, send it straight to the school board because then you’re getting the principal in trouble with his/her bosses.
But if there is a possibility that the school could figure out it’s you causing the problems, then why do it anonymously at all? Why not just sit down with the principal face to face and lay the smack down in person? You can do it politely, even! Hannah, our resident education professional, recommended gently pointing out the letter appeared to be in breach of the Department of Education’s policy, and furthermore that the “requirement” (if it is that) doesn’t seem to take into account the time constraints on working parents. Perhaps you can ask if there are any volunteer opportunities that would be on your own terms, since you fully planned to fulfill your hours regardless? Basically, you can nicely back the principal into a corner and give them the opportunity to back down, but if they don’t — then you can report them. Or go with the scorched earth option and TAKE THIS SHIT PUBLIC.
Because schools, especially big honking prestigious ones, really don’t want any bad publicity. If you were so inclined, you could be this school’s worst fucking nightmare. Send the letter you received to the local newspaper, explain why it’s illegal, and let them do some digging. Rally other parents who may have also gotten these kinds of letters. Go to town halls, or school board meetings. Get the whole community involved.
Or just let that hang over your meeting with the principal as your OWN implied threat, and see what happens.
Anyway, I like where your head is at and I wish you luck. Ultimately I don’t know if it’s worth going to all the trouble because you have to consider your family. But if you DO… please send us updates. I, for one, am invested in this situation now. And seriously, fuck that school right in its fancypants magnet ear.