Wednesday, February 23, 2011

School Matters

We received this letter from SnapDragon's school on Saturday.  It made us so angry that for a moment I even contemplated homeschooling--which I believe is a great option for certain families and certain children, but not my SnapDragon at this time.  I believe we overreacted, but it is still unsettling to me, so what do you think?

Dr. Mr. Oak and Mrs. Cedar,

We are so glad that SnapDragon attends X Elementary.  At X, we are doing everything we can to encourage students to achieve their best by attending school every day and by reaching each class on time.  We are asking you for your help in accomplishing these goals.

We have noticed that SnapDragon has been absent 6 days so far this year.  Each day SnapDragon is absent he misses out on instruction that builds important skills.  Consider this: for every 5 days missed, your child loses up to 30 hours of learning time.  Whatever your child's goals may be, he will need basic skills such as reading and math, to be successful.

We would like to partner with you to help SnapDragon get to school, so if there is anything making it difficult for your child to get here, please let us know.  It is my sincere hope that we can work together to avoid filing a Truancy petition with the juvenile court.

Please don't hesitate to call with any concerns or questions.  Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.


SnapDragon's Principal

Perhaps you feel the letter was completely justified--after all he has missed 6 days--but let me give you my feelings about this.

First, 4 of those days he had a fever.  We are not allowed to bring children to school if they have had a fever of 100 degrees or more in the last 24 hours.  1 day was the day his grandma died and 1 day was while we were gone for the funeral.  All 6 days were Excused absences with notes.  I would have been happy to bring him to school for the 4 days of fevers thus bringing him down to only 2 absences, but I don't break rules.

Second, most of the school staff know me and all know SnapDragon.  He is not struggling in any of his classes.  In fact, especially in math, he isn't even being challenged.  His teachers acknowledge this but have no plan.  With a new principal this year there have been several changes in how the classes are run--all geared to the benefit of the average and below average students--including 4 hours a week of enrichment for SnapDragon (and other bright students) while bringing other students up to speed on core principles.  Yes, our school system is failing many children and perhaps all of these changes will help them, but don't yell at me about attendance when I allow you to waste hours of my child's time every day.

Third, the Truancy law is for 10-12 UNEXCUSED absences.  Are you seriously threatening me with a juvenile court petition for 6 EXCUSED absences? 

It is my sincere hope that we can work together to avoid filing a Truancy petition with the juvenile court.

It is this line that has me all worked up again.  If the letter was about the importance of attendance, I can accept that we do not value his attendance at school as highly as they do.  We could have sent him the day his grandma died; we could have come home from his grandma's funeral a day early.  We did not.  

The condescending attitude in the middle of the letter that assumes because we do not value attendance we do not value education, I can forgive, because while it does not apply to us, generically, it is a reasonable assumption.

Now the problem is that while offering help the letter threatens.  Filing a petition with juvenile court is not a slap on the wrist, it is a scary, frightening idea.   I did not have our state's truancy law memorized.  I looked it up on the internet and was quickly able to sooth my fears--after all, how can I promise that SnapDragon won't have 4 more fevers?  

I wonder about the mom who received the same letter on the first day of a week long vacation for similar absences but doesn't have internet or cannot find the Truancy Law in her native tongue. (Over 10% of students at my son's school is considered transitional bilingual and even more speak a different language than English at home.)  What fear is she still contending with until she can call the school next Monday?

Since my child's absences were excused it is an empty threat and completely inappropriate to be used in this context.  But even if his absences were unexcused, the wording of the letter makes this document a threat not a warning.  

A warning would explain the law and that at 12 unexcused absences the school is required to file a petition.  The results of this petition would probably be a requirement for family counseling and for the parents to receive training.  Usually, unless other problems are discovered, the child remains with his parents.  A warning would explain the danger and provide ways to avoid it.  

A threat uses a person's ignorance and fear to achieve a desired behavior--in this case better attendance from your child.

Maybe that is the only way to improve attendance roles.  Maybe parents do need to be threatened to care.  Maybe patronizing newsletters about table manners and behavior is the school's only option.  Maybe a kinder letter would yield no results. 

But it feels an awful lot like bullying to me.


Nancy said...

I would have immediately gotten in my car drove drown to the school, and asked to immediately speak to the principal. Rather I would have WANTED to do this and probably would have sat at my computer and composed a well written letter and asked DH to drive down to the school and confront the principal.
The last sentence is absolutely uncalled for. It is shameful. It IS a threat. As a former teacher, it is inexcusable NOT to take the matter up with parents personally before a letter is written.
I would not be as forgiving as you. I would have blown my stack.

Number 6 and no more counting! said...

Holy s..t! Wow, that is a serious put down!