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Off Topic: School Ignores Parents
Last night, I attended a meeting at my kids’ school with the intent of discussing the principal’s decision to go to school uniforms in the middle of the school year. The problem is that the principal didn’t want to hear our concerns. She tried to shut me up and I think you all know what happens when someone tries to shut me up. Not only that, but she scheduled this meeting on the same evening as the school board meeting, so parents had no opportunity for recourse. About 10 parents tried to make it to the meeting before it ended, but we were too late as the school board is located on the opposite side of the city from the school.
Here is the email I sent to the superintendent after the meeting last night. I’ve omitted names of people involved:
My name is CJ Grisham and I’m the very proud parent of three honor roll children (one of whom is an NJHS member) attending Williams Middle and Elementary School. On Thursday, 1 October 2009, Principal [name withheld] held a parents meeting to showcase the school uniforms. I’m sure by now you are aware of my disagreement with [the principal] after that “meeting.” On behalf of the “one or two parents” that also disagreed with the timing of this policy (which was really more like 50-60), I would like to schedule a meeting on this topic with you, the principal and parents. This is a topic that parents deserve to have a voice in. Since the principal refused to allow us to voice our concerns tonight, I’m taking them to the next level. If you refuse to meet with us, I will go even higher.
Huntsville City Schools policy number 102-8 states that “the Board of Education supports the development, implementation, and regular evaluation of a program in each school, which will involve parents and the community at all grade levels in a variety of roles.” The policy goes on to list some components of how that is made possible, such as:
* Family and school communications is two-way, regular, meaningful, and respectful of diversity
* Parents and the community are welcome in the school, and their active support and assistance are sought
* Inclusion of parents and community as partners in the decisions that affect children and families
I will state unequivocally that there was NOT two-way communication on the uniform policy. It was a one-way communication that simply informed us of the decision to switch to uniforms mid-school year. The community was NOT welcome in the school as demonstrated by [the principal's] banishment of the media present to cover a simple event to showcase school uniforms. She did this rudely and without identifying herself WHILE a parent of one of the students was being interviewed. And, finally, parents certainly were NOT included in the uniform decision, which no one can argue doesn’t affect children and families.
Parents had an opportunity to question the security official and the uniform store official, but no one was allowed to question the principal who unilaterally decided this was a great idea. Let me state plainly and openly that I, along with most of the parents I’ve spoken and met with on this topic, am not opposed to school uniforms. Far from it! I have absolutely no problem with them. I wear a uniform on a daily basis as a Soldier. What I have a problem with are parents not being consulted on these major decisions. I have a problem with instituting an expensive uniform policy halfway through a school year after the most expensive holiday of the year and after school clothes have already been purchased. I have a problem with a principal who refuses to even listen to voices of opposition and then mislead you and others about how many of us there are! I have a problem with a principal who dismisses my concerns and tells me that she won’t discuss a uniform policy with me at a uniform meeting! I have a problem with a principal who doesn’t understand the fundamentals of our free society in allowing the media to cover a public event. What is there to hide if only “one or two” of us disagree, as you stated on record tonight? Her conduct tonight was unacceptable, mean spirited, and completely unprofessional.
One parent tried to explain to other parents how much these uniforms cost, but couldn’t be heard because no microphone was set up. When she went to approach the microphone after other parents wanted to hear what she said, Mrs. Williams said it “wasn’t necessary” and didn’t allow the parent to be heard. She mentioned some fictitious price sheet that I and other parents haven’t seen. One of the school officials sitting right next to Mrs. Williams cast aside our concerns over the cost of having to purchase multiple uniforms by basically telling us to teach our kids to do laundry! I thought we taught our kids how to conserve water and energy and yet we’re being told to wash uniforms basically every day if we can’t afford multiple sets?! No silly $50 voucher is going cover everything the kids need, especially with multiple kids. My cost would be easily over $400 to purchase just five sets of clothing and that’s assuming I even qualify for a voucher.
The parents and I would like to schedule a meeting with you to discuss our concerns. We are not against uniforms, we simply believe that there is no reason to force us to purchase them or the kids to wear them in January. We are in the middle of one of the worst recessions in recent memory and money is tight for everyone. The Huntsville City School system receives a LOT of federal money for all the military children attending school here. We deserve a voice in our children’s education. And we also vote in school board and superintendent elections.
I study law and am aware of numerous United States District Court rulings in which the legality of forcing unwilling children to wear a uniform were questioned and ruled unconstitutional when challenged. I brought two cases with me tonight. I’m also aware of federal law contained within the US Code that specifically states that “parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and States, localities, and private institutions have the primary responsibility for supporting that parental role.” (U.S. Code, Title 20, Chapter 48, Subchapter I, Paragraph 3401(3))(emphasis mine)
We believe this decision can be postponed until the new school year or some other compromise. If the uniform is voluntary until December, it can be voluntary until May. Please let me know of a few dates when you would be available so I can coordinate with the families who are also concerned. A timely response to this concern is appreciated. Please feel free to contact me directly at [phone number deleted] if you would like to discuss scheduling over the phone.
May I also add that it was completely contemptuous of [7th grade science teacher] to remark to other parents how embarrassed my wife must feel being married to me. Those comments by her and other teachers about those of us that disagree are completely uncalled for and made me feel as if I needed to speak with the assistant principal to inform her that if there is any blowback against my kids for what happened tonight, lawsuits will follow. My children’s education experience had better not be affected by my actions in standing up for my rights as a parent and organizing others who feel the same way. I can’t even begin to describe how absolutely ashamed I am of the administration tonight at Williams Middle School. My wife is proud that I had the courage to stand up for what is right and stood by me the entire time. [That teacher] and other teachers need to stay in their lane of educating our children.