Punishing elementary child for things outside of their control.
September 8, 2010 9:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I convince school administration a rule is bad?

My daughter who is in the fourth grade and age nine brought home a list of rules from her school for this year. One rule that is imposed school wide (K-5) is if any student is tardy two times they serve lunch detention.
Lunch detention means you eat in a room/area away from other students.

What troubles me about this rule is that it punishes a child for something completely out of their control. My child relies on me to take her to school or to get her to the bus stop. If she is late, it is because of me.

I tried to compromise and offer to write a note on days if she was tardy on her own actions, and then of course it would count towards the two tardy rule.

A few things to keep in mind. One, is that she's not had to serve lunch detention nor is she habitually late, or do I expect her too, but the rule says any tardies through out the year count, so any two times in the school year.

Second, this is in Texas, in Texas if a child misses ANY time of the school day, even five minutes, they are counted absent, and after a certain amount of absences the parents can be fined/taken to court; this includes tardies.

I brought this up to both the principal and school liaison with the school administration and both said 'we want to punish the student now, not wait for an excess of ten tardies to take the parent to court.'

My issue with the rule is that its a punishment to a child for something they can not control. I make the analogy when speaking to the school that it would be no different if the cop pulled me over for not seat belt and gave the ticket to my child, she had nothing to do with it.
Another example that bothered me, is my child had a new prescription filled for her eyeglasses, the eye wear place has not received them in and we were supposed to have them Tuesday (9/7), my child went to school without eyeglasses because we had not received them yet, she was given a written warning for not having them, their thought/idea was they believe they are 'supplies' and she not having them she was 'unprepared'. Again, not something she could control.

I meet with the superintendent soon, and then I can file a grievance to go to the school board. How do I get them to listen to my side more clearly and see it as wrong to punish a child for something they can't control.

In full disclosure I am an attorney, a criminal defense attorney. I am hesitant to put that to avoid the whole 'teach your kid right from wrong and get them on time, or leave it be', my child knows that being to school on time is important, she hates being tardy (she was tardy twice last year), its embarrassing. I have not informed the school I am attorney nor has my child told them her father is, I've always instilled in her that throwing that around does nothing but make matters worse or make it her look obnoxious.

I have read the Education Code and it's not clear on guiding schools on discipline, so I am looking for more of an argument outside of some law/rule.

Thanks for any input.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (43 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I brought this up to both the principal and school liaison with the school administration and both said 'we want to punish the student now, not wait for an excess of ten tardies to take the parent to court.'

This does not in any way address your (very sensible) point: they are unfairly punishing the child for something entirely outside of their control. If your child was paraplegic and couldn't participate in gym class, would they count that as an absence? Or does that closer to "not having required school supplies?" Neither, naturally, because the physical limitation is similarly beyond their control.

It sounds like they are simply being intractable, which (again) is no surprise. School administrators are so afraid of questioning rules they have essentially turned their brains off. All you are going to get is more stonewalling. Logic and reason, at this point, are entirely insufficient weapons. You're going to need the big guns...

I have not informed the school I am attorney nor has my child told them her father is, I've always instilled in her that throwing that around does nothing but make matters worse or make it her look obnoxious.

Lawsuits are the only things that these impotent little tyrants will respect.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:05 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Talk to other parents in your daughter's school about the rule.

If enough of you feel this way, you can begin a petition and take action within the system to change the rule before even bringing up lawyers and lawsuits. (If it helps at all, I think that's an atrocious rule and it only causes harm to the child without fixing anything. Yes, if your daughter is late because she forgot your homework, then that should count toward the tardy. If your daughter is late because you forgot a case file for the court date you have that day, then it shouldn't.)

The eyeglasses thing is just...GAH!
posted by zizzle at 10:08 AM on September 8, 2010


You should probably check into what state and local laws are regarding attendance requirements. No Child Left Behind required mandatory reporting for truancy, IIRC, and many municipalities go even further because of the strong correlation between attendance and performance, and the fact that poor performance means funding cuts/closures.

You may not get much traction on your petition if it means the school could loose out on millions in federal funding that would have to be made up for with increased local property taxes.
posted by nomisxid at 10:18 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok – while I do think this school has some crazy, extremely unreasonable rules (5 minutes late = absent?? What is that??), I think your particular point is also a bit unreasonable. Mainly because when a child is late for school, it very often IS their fault. There must be several tardy students each day; how can the school keep track of who is at fault in each case? Should each tardy have to go through a judgment process? What about when it is both the child’s and the parent’s fault – what then? This area is really too grey and if parents start justifying their children's tardies it could get out of hand quickly.
posted by yawper at 10:20 AM on September 8, 2010


"I meet with the superintendent soon, and then I can file a grievance to go to the school board. How do I get them to listen to my side more clearly and see it as wrong to punish a child for something they can't control."

I'm on a school board, and the school board won't listen, I'm sorry to tell you. Since they can't put the parents in detention for tardies, they put the child in detention. It is frequently the parent's "fault" when a child is tardy, but school is a family undertaking. Look, everyone knows the child is a minor and has a limited ability to act independently of the parents. However, it's the child's responsibility to be to school on time, and the parent's responsibility to ensure that the child is. If the child is not at school on time, regardless of fault, the child is going to be punished under the rules.

I don't know about Texas, but here in Illinois we not only vet all school policies through a lawyer, but we get routine releases from the state board updating our rules and informing us of new law and how we must update our policies to be in compliance. I am almost sure that your school's rule is in compliance with the law, particularly given that what I know of Texas is that schools administration is considerably more centralized to the state level. (Dude, we don't get to take parents to court over truancy! That would be awesome!) It sounds like your truancy/absence/tardy laws are considerably stricter than ours, so I would be surprised if you could get any traction at all.

(And if you want to talk vicarious punishment, we had a principal suspend a student because the student's MOTHER swore at the principal. THAT one we overturned, that was absurd.)

If you're coming to the school board saying (I will assume in a closed disciplinary appeal), "Don't punish my child for being tardy because I am not capable of getting here there on time," what we would actually do is ask the administration if the social worker has been in touch with you, and if the school is aware if what's going on in your home life that makes it impossible to get your child to school on time with such frequency that the rule is a problem. Depending on the situation, the school administrators might be required to report it to DCFS in Illinois.

Now, if your complaint is that two tardies is too few and the policy should be changed to two tardies per semester, or four throughout the year, that the school board might listen to. However, what you're going to discover is that there are plenty of parents in the district that will take the maximum number of tardies they can without punishment, and loosening up the rule results in dramatic attendance shifts towards tardiness, which at the elementary level is disruptive and impact's every student's learning. It's honestly shocking how many parents apparently live to game the system to the greatest extent possible to have their children in school as rarely as possible.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:25 AM on September 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


It totally isn't fair for your daughter to be punished for your tardiness. But rather than take on the school, perhaps you should work on getting the kid to school on time. That's your job.

Your kid is an outlier. Most kids are tardy because they lollygagging around on their own before school. And many other parents would make more of an effort to get the kid to school on time. The pressure of knowing that my kid would get busted for tardiness because I hit the snooze bar too many times would be enough. This is the great educational opportunity to show your child the importance of showing up on time.

How do you propose the school discriminate against kids with parents that drop them off late versus kids who are goofing off? Even in elementary school there are kids that will fib and blame their parents to get out of getting in trouble. There's a lot of dumb rules in school. It is great training for the real world when there's also a lot of dumb rules.
posted by birdherder at 10:32 AM on September 8, 2010


Eyebrows McGee, I usually like what you have to say, but I think your position is absolutely 100% hands down ridiculous. The OP is talking about TWO tardies requiring detention and 5 minutes late being reported as an absence for the entire day. In elementary school.

I think the rule is more than okay for middle and high school students where there is far more autonomy given to the student in arriving at school on time. But for elementary school? It's a ridiculous policy, and the OP should damn well work to have it changed. (And maybe you should work on your school board to change that, too.)

Also --- what if a bus is late? A bus is part of a public school system, and say there's an accident and the bus can't get through, should the school count all of those students late? What if parents who drive their kids to school are in the same line of traffic? Do the students on the bus get a pass but the students driven in don't? The rule isn't accounting for situations well beyond the control of *anyone,* and if it's going to be that inflexible, there needs to be a clear explanation on the one or two exceptions when it won't be enforced.
posted by zizzle at 10:38 AM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


My child relies on me to take her to school or to get her to the bus stop. If she is late, it is because of me.

Your child is being punished because of your errors. Maybe you should be looking at changing your way of doing things so your child is not late for school, instead of trying to change the rules that apply to everybody just because they don't work for your circumstances.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


in Texas if a child misses ANY time of the school day, even five minutes, they are counted absent

This is not correct for the purposes of funding. They are counted absent if they are not present at official roll call time, present if they are. See sections 3.6 and specifically 3.6.8 of the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook, an amazing 260-page document that describes Texas student attendance rules in detail.
posted by grouse at 10:53 AM on September 8, 2010


Talk to other parents about this. If enough parents agree, then take this up with the school administration. But what if other parents don't agree? You may need to let this go. And, really, if the worst case scenario here is that your daughter gets detention because you are making her late, then that will probably motivate your daughter to motivate you to get our the door. Which is what should be happening. It's school--she needs to get there on time.

I would also suggest stepping back and thinking about the energy you are about to spend on this. Is this really the best way to make your daughter's school life better? What if you spend this same amount of energy volunteering at the school library? I suspect that would have far more meaningful consequences.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:55 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


They have private schools in Texas, don't they? I realize being a lawyer doesn't automatically make you rich, but lots of not rich people find a way to get their kids the hell out of public school. It's only going to get worse as your daughter gets older. You can accept you'll be fighting and losing these battles annually, you can lean to live with the stupidity, or you can get out. My vote is get out if you can swing it.
posted by COD at 11:03 AM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I bet it would help your case if you could propose an alternative rule or procedure that helps accomplish their very reasonable goal of having the kids at school on time, while also meeting your goal of not punishing the kids when the situation is not their fault.
posted by fritley at 11:03 AM on September 8, 2010


You are unlikely to be able to convince them to change the rule. There is, however, something that you can do to reduce the impact of their punishment of your child in the event that she is tardy and is punished: Volunteer to come to the school during the lunch detention and serve lunch detention with her, explaining to her and explaining - in front of her - to the school officials that it was your fault and that you insist on being punished, as well.
posted by The World Famous at 11:06 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not in Texas but some parents will do anything to excuse not getting their kids to school, and given an inch will take two school districts.

Punishing the kid makes them whine at and blame the parents and take way more responsibility for having things ready. Example, my son was late twice (kind of my fault), got told he'd be on detention if it happened again and from then on got his own kit ready the night before, fed himself breakfast and was waiting by the door so he wouldn't miss his lunchtime activity. Because he knew no matter whose fault it was, he was the one catching stick for it.

Sometimes, rarely, it is genuinely no-one's fault. Like the snowstorms that made his journey an hour longer. Then he got the detention despite leaving home earlier, I phoned up and explained the ridiculously unsolvable situation and the detention was removed.

So explain situations as they happen, don't try to change a decent rule in advance that helps many many families and children understand how important it is not to be late. When she gets a job they won't be anywhere near as accepting (car broke down? tough! pay docked!) as you want the school to be. Making them change it despite it not really affecting you is petty and will result in more difficulties than it will solve.
posted by shinybaum at 11:06 AM on September 8, 2010


Also, teaching her how to handle unfair situations is going to do her far more good in the long term. Sometimes life sucks, kids. If it isn't causing her trauma I'd use it as a lesson in managerial dickery that will serve her well in her first lawyer type job.
posted by shinybaum at 11:09 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, spend this energy making sure you get out of the house on time. Your daughter is old enough to get on your case about you getting her a detention. Yes it's a rather extreme rule, but it's Texas, isn't it? It has lots of nutty rules that your daughter will have to live with. Good life lesson right here.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:42 AM on September 8, 2010


You and your husband are lawyers and you cannot get to school on time? What do you tell opposing counsel when you are late for a meeting or the judge why you can't get to court on time? Are you willing to tell your child that she is getting detention because you could not get your self and child to school on time? "Honey, I know it is no fun to eat inside when your friends are playing in the yard, but mommy just could not get out of bed 5 minutes earlier today so I am afraid you have to deal with it today." I am so not a morning person and am chronically cutting it close to being on time, but this seems like the perfect incentive for me to leave 5 minutes earlier.

Sure, the rule sounds onerous. Yeah there will be extenuating circumstances such as a car crash traffic jam, but this rule is likely within reason for 95+% of the students or they would be having these detentions or complaints about detentions all day long. It would cripple the workings of the school. If I were you, I would wait until it becomes and issue and appeal to the good faith of the principal or have you child eat lunch inside that day.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:51 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


At this stage I think it's more important for your child to learn that it's VERY important to get to school on time than to learn how to split hairs or come up with extenuating circumstances which explain why certain rules should apply to some and not to others.

Trust me, when she's a teenager she will learn the latter very quickly on her own.

The rule as it stands is an incentive for you and she to work together to make sure she has gets to have lunch with her friends. Since it doesn't sound like you've had a problem accomplishing this so far, I don't see the problem. An occasional, perhaps avoidable lunch detention isn't a very big deal, and it's certainly not worth getting involved with her school's administration over. You can't -- and shouldn't -- shelter her from the inherent unfairness of school life, at least not on this level.
posted by hermitosis at 11:53 AM on September 8, 2010


I'm on a school board, and the school board won't listen, I'm sorry to tell you. Since they can't put the parents in detention for tardies, they put the child in detention. It is frequently the parent's "fault" when a child is tardy, but school is a family undertaking. Look, everyone knows the child is a minor and has a limited ability to act independently of the parents. However, it's the child's responsibility to be to school on time, and the parent's responsibility to ensure that the child is. If the child is not at school on time, regardless of fault, the child is going to be punished under the rules.

I realized I was scowling after I finished reading this. This kind of attitude and behavior is totally inexcusable and gives school board a bad name. A fourth grader cannot be responsible for getting to school on time. They have no control or even oversight over that situation whatsoever. You're making a very compelling argument for homeschooling to avoid logic such as that. And you finish with

It's honestly shocking how many parents apparently live to game the system to the greatest extent possible to have their children in school as rarely as possible.

Which I'm sure is true, but you don't combat that by punishing the children. That's preposterous.
posted by Phyltre at 12:01 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


From the OP:
Thanks for all the responses, I want to clarify that my child has not been subject to this detention as the rule states. She is on time. My concern is the students as a body, not my child. Punishment is meant to modify behavior, no matter how menial or extreme. A child can not modify the behavior of a parent, if the parent is late to getting them to school, punishing the child does nothing.

My biggest concern is the students who come from very poor backgrounds or may have parents who are abusive, putting them in a situation where they have to confront a parent about a parents actions may not necessarily alter the parents behavior but have unintended consequences towards the child such as yelling and or physical abuse.

This post nor my objection to the rule, as my initial post stated, was never about my own specific child, but about the rule itself at an elementary level.

I appreciate the responses, some seem to lack understanding about it, and/or point out I should have my child on time, which I do. Again, like I wrote above my concern is punishing a child in order to modify behavior they can not modify and possible unintended consequences to the child.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:24 PM on September 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


Effectively, what they're doing is leveraging your (as a parent) desire to protect your children from unfair punishment, to get you (as a parent) to do what they want you to do. It is massively unfair to the child, but that's the point, as it's likely to make you care more and work harder to do the right thing.

By comparison, take away the rules about glasses and tardiness. Now, as a parent who genuinely cares about your kids but (for whatever reason) is lazy about supporting them properly with timely arrivals and eyeglasses from day one, they have no stick to wield (other than talking to you and hoping to get through to you.) Still, some parents won't care enough to fix their own problems, and their child will suffer as a result (in a way that isn't really obvious, but in aggregate will impact their education -- they're not there for the start of lessons, they can't read the board, and so on.)

So, this strategy -- whether you like it or not -- is unfair by design as a way of turning actual harm to your child that's too subtle to see in real time into actual harm to your child that not only can be seen in real time, but feels patently unfair (and so pits you and your child against the school.)

In a way, it's taking one for the team; the school becomes the bad guy so that parents who don't support their kids want to support their kids.

Is this a good idea? That I can't say. Like most hard-line strategies, it might be effective on problem parents, but it's going to catch good, diligent parents when things outside of their control get in the way of supporting their kids. So you can try to convince them on that basis.

Or, you can do this: don't fight the rule, just make yourself an exception to it. Let the other parents take care of their kids, and take care of your own. Tell the principal that you've thought about it, and you understand how the rule is necessary to keep problem parents from dropping the ball on supporting their kids. Also tell them you understand it's your job as a parent to make sure you hold up your end of the bargain.

Then, if something comes up that does make your child tardy or what-have-you, don't send a note -- call and talk to the principal, or even better, pay a visit. Apologize, explain what happened, and make it clear: you don't expect an exception to be made, but you would appreciate it given the circumstances.

Ultimately, if you're dealing with petty tyrants who don't care about the kids they teach, you'll be out of luck -- but if you have folks who care about the kids first and foremost, they're going to appreciate you taking responsibility, they're going to appreciate you not trying to take advantage of them, and most importantly they're going to realize you do support your child (because they'll see how hard you try -- show up early most days, for instance!) and so won't feel the need to wield the weapon they've designed for lazy parents.

And, believe me, many parents are. Do you know, just in my kid's preschool, the teachers claimed most parents had never asked their names, and didn't bother to attend the two parent-teacher conferences scheduled over the year? It's amazing how little interest some parents take in their children's education. If you're not that kind of parent -- and it's obvious you're not -- make sure you show that to the teachers and principal on a daily basis, and they're going to cut you a huge amount of slack in return (not to drop that responsibility, but when it gets dropped despite your best efforts.)
posted by davejay at 12:28 PM on September 8, 2010


Oh, and: it's important for you to sit down with your daughter, and explain that you (and the school) are aware that the warning for your glasses was not because she was at fault, and that the school gave her that notice to encourage the two of you to get them as soon as possible, because they care about her being able to see the board so she can learn and participate. She won't have her feelings hurt if you're open and up-front about this.
posted by davejay at 12:30 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


My biggest concern is the students who come from very poor backgrounds or may have parents who are abusive,

Don't worry about imaginary children you don't know. The teachers at my son's school are pretty experienced in dealing with their own neglected students, in fact it may be a good thing for a kid to be constantly in detention so that problems can be picked up on and addressed. If the school is crappy it will be crappy whichever way.

If it really troubles you, join the PTA and constantly push the idea of neglected kids to the forefront. Take them up as your cause, look for ways to help them.
posted by shinybaum at 12:32 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


@zizzle: The OP is talking about TWO tardies requiring detention and 5 minutes late being reported as an absence for the entire day. In elementary school."

It sounds like the 5 minutes late thing is Texas law, not school policy, based on what the OP says. Average attendance rates in my state (Illinois) determine state funding for individual districts, and the state dictates what counts as an absence for those purposes. I completely agree 5 minutes is ridiculous, but it sounds like that is not within the school's purview.

Also --- what if a bus is late? A bus is part of a public school system, and say there's an accident and the bus can't get through, should the school count all of those students late?"

We don't count those students late, no.

What if parents who drive their kids to school are in the same line of traffic? Do the students on the bus get a pass but the students driven in don't? The rule isn't accounting for situations well beyond the control of *anyone,* and if it's going to be that inflexible, there needs to be a clear explanation on the one or two exceptions when it won't be enforced.

Clearly. And in an ideal world you give your building administrators some leeway to make those decisions. (Ours generally have leeway for that sort of decision, despite the strictness of the policy.) However, what happens when you have exceptions is you get sued. A lot. We've got like four civil rights lawsuits pending where administrators made exceptions in one case but not another. In most of those cases the exception is defensible; however, it is costing us literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend the lawsuits regardless. What happens is the OP says, "I'd like you to excuse my child's tardy because it's my fault she's late and I had a REALLY GOOD REASON" and someone else says the same thing, and either the policy is never enforced, or you get sued for enforcing it on some families but not others.

@Phyltre: A fourth grader cannot be responsible for getting to school on time.

Unfortunately, the state disagrees and has enshrined it into law. And unlike Texas, in Illinois we are only permitted to hold the child responsible for tardiness; we are not permitted to hold the parent responsible (court, fines, as the OP mentions) even if the parent is at fault.

Just FYI, in my district, elementary students with tardiness problems are usually contacted by social services, not put in detention. We're a very high-poverty district and excessive absence or tardiness is almost always related to problems in the home -- housing insecurity, transportation problems, parental work issues, or simple neglect. We don't really give detentions or suspensions in elementary school for anything but acting up/out in school (i.e., hitting) or the typical failure to complete assignments repeatedly. But it sounds like the policy the OP mentioned is consistent with the considerably more stringent Texas state laws she mentions. In which case the proper venue for advocating for change is the state house, not the school board.

Also, with respect to our policy, I have to say, if I'm a middle-class parent who just isn't very timely? I probably prefer my kid getting lunch detention for my excessive parental tardiness than the school contacting DCFS to find out what's going on in my home.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:38 PM on September 8, 2010


Considering the neglected/poor/abused children further, it strikes me that the rules might indeed be set up to help them.

At my son's old school you had to be in full uniform every single day, no excuses and no questions. I thought that was awful - we live on a really poor estate and if your shoes break you often have to wait till benefits day to replace them - that could be a full week and leave a family without enough food.

On the other hand, the school did this:

1. Parent phones to excuse kid or kid turns up in flip-flops
2. Teacher takes kid to locker room, finds pair of shoes that fits, asks kid if there are problems, has chance to intervene before breaking point

They even sent home folders on how to get to school on time every day. Even for me it was helpful stuff.

And I was a neglected child and believe me, fading into the background at school was great at the time but utterly destructive in the long term.
posted by shinybaum at 12:39 PM on September 8, 2010


however, it is costing us literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend the lawsuits regardless.

Just to add to myself:

Literally, as in, we just hit our $600,000 insurance deductible on one of these "exceptions for one and not for another" cases. That is a LOT of taxpayer money. Petty adherence to the rules in the face of clear exceptions occurs for a reason, and that reason is failure to do so costs $600,000 before you hit the deductible. For each occurrence.

I suppose my large point is that a lot of these issues are systemic and attacking one bit of the system without seeing the larger problems is not very helpful. Before we can even write our attendance policy, we're hemmed in by state law, federal law, and applicable court decisions that limit our ability to craft the policy we might want to craft. Then we have to keep in mind that treating children differently frequently results in lawsuits. Just two a year, out of 14,000 students, and we're talking $1 million+ in legal fees before we hit our deductibles. Only THEN do we really get to address the actual needs of our actual students, who are not the same as the other 2.1 million or so actual students in the state, but who are treated as generically the same by the law.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:46 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


And further adding to myself:

All of our individual policies list the applicable laws the policies must comply with at the bottom. Our attendance policy lists 7 state laws, one state court case, and three additional policies that also address aspects of attendance.

Those other policies list 2 federal laws, 21 more state laws, 2 state administrative decisions, and of course further cross-referenced policies.

That's just the policy for "is your butt in the chair at the right time?" There are other policies for medical issues, immunization waivers and infectious diseases as they relate to attendance, religious release time, etc.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:01 PM on September 8, 2010


This sounds like a ridiculous rule. It's upsetting to me because it seems to teach kids learned helplessness. It's not their fault if they don't get to school on time. They can't do anything to help this situation. They are stuck with detention and learn that nothing they do will effect their situation.

..another idiotic part of this rule is that it doesn't sound like they punish kids for being absent. I know that as a kid, if my school had this rule and I was going to be late, that I would have begged and cried to be allowed to stay home. My parents would have felt guilty and let me stay home. In effect, they are creating a situation where parents are going to let their kids stay home rather than go in late.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:15 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


You'll never convince school administration that a rule is wrong. You have to show that the rule could have negative consequences for the school, the school system or a specific person in power.
posted by nomadicink at 1:18 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


It sounds like the 5 minutes late thing is Texas law, not school policy, based on what the OP says.

As I posted above, attendance is determined at official roll call time, which is ultimately determined by the principal or school board. Tex. Admin. Code §129.21(i):
Attendance for all grades must be determined by the absences recorded in the second or fifth period of the day, unless permission has been obtained from the TEA for an alternate period to record absences, unless the local school board adopts a district policy for recording absences in an alternate period or hour, or unless the students for which attendance is being taken are enrolled in and participating in an alternative attendance accounting program approved by the commissioner of education.
It's possible that the school board made a special policy to set the roll call time to be 5 min after the start of the day, but I find this unlikely. Either the school is misleading you about the relationship between tardiness and state funding, or they have a stupid policy which will needlessly result in decreased state funding that should be changed.
posted by grouse at 1:21 PM on September 8, 2010


Your question is: "How do I convince school administration a rule is bad?" And the answer seems to be that the school might pay attention to a strongly worded request on a lawyer's letterhead, but little else.

Unfortunately, many schools are in the business of punishment rather than teaching. Their jobs are much easier that way.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:28 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't read all the replies. I am a former school administrator.

"In loco parentis" goes both ways. An attorney who is late to court or fails to submit a document harms their client only.

Schools are reimbursed for every class students attend. Attendance is the law. School professionals adhere to a Code of Ethics; that's also law.

That said, for an administrator to say they are "punishing" the child is heinous. Lunch detention? Your child should be told that it is an attempt to change the behavior of the parent. Children often suffer consequences for the parents actions or inactions.

I hated punishing kids. I did believe in consequences.

Do you often employ the "shitty childhood" defense in your work?

It is the law that children attend school. Like the law or not, our Code of Ethics mandates that we not look askance. Perhaps we should (as administrators) be given the right to "ticket" the parent, much like a parking ticket. $100. It cost the school district far more for the absence.

Given that, in 40 years I NEVER failed to excuse a justified absence. Stuff happens and really bad stuff happens. I would never punish a child for an alcoholic parent. Some here paint school administrators with a broad and negative brush. I won't even dignify that with a response.

If you visit a school professional with both guns blazing and threaten, don't be surprised if they respond with the law and policy. If your only solution is "change the rule" without any thought as to how many kids are being punished by irregular attendance at school, expect a pro forma response. That school official likely has no power to change that policy. Policy comes from The Board of Trustees. Folks like you.

Go in asking for a solution that best benefits your child and you will find most administrators masters at solving such problems. It is what we do for a living. Most of us continually err on the side of families and children. Sometimes those errors really come back to haunt us. If an emergency eyeglass appointment is not accomodated, I think that is silly. On the other hand, if eating alone is such a life altering experience, tell your child the truth. It is the consequence of your lack of attention to detail, not theirs. Just as if you failed to pack a lunch or didn't pay for it, they wouldn't eat.
posted by private_idaho at 1:43 PM on September 8, 2010


"And the answer seems to be that the school might pay attention to a strongly worded request on a lawyer's letterhead, but little else."

Honestly, this makes us refer it to our lawyers and stop addressing it at all until all the lawyers are done, and then we usually do what the lawyers recommend, which is usually a much more conservative and lawsuit-averse course of action than we might otherwise follow.

But then we get sued a lot.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:51 PM on September 8, 2010


"Policy comes from The Board of Trustees. Folks like you."

private_idaho makes a good point: Nothing is stopping the OP from running for school board, which is the surest way of addressing moronic policies. It was a particularly bad transportation issue that was the tipping point that convinced me to run.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I did just have a thought, not to be a contrarian or anything: in the year my kids attended an early education center preschool with a set start time, they were five minutes or more late a handful of times.

Every one of those times, it was because I was ready to go, and the kids should have been ready to go, but one or both of them started throwing a tantrum about eating breakfast or putting on their clothes, and so things took longer than they should have. Sometimes they threw tantrums and we still got there on time, because they were four years old and so I baked in some extra morning preparedness time (and if they got ready early, which they usually did, they played), but being a little kid is tough and a few times the extra time wasn't enough.

So, I bring this up because it is possible for a child, even at Kindergarten age, to contribute to their own tardiness. The younger they are, the less they understand how to manage their own time, and as they push against limits (as healthy kids do) they're sometimes going to push against time management limits.

From that perspective, there could be some value in helping the kids understand they need to be responsible for themselves, as much as they can be. What's troublesome is that they'll get punished even if it's something they couldn't control, which feels unjust.
posted by davejay at 4:24 PM on September 8, 2010


When she gets a job they won't be anywhere near as accepting (car broke down? tough! pay docked!) as you want the school to be.

Sorry to be OT, but enh, probably not true. The worst that has ever happened to me, in my entire employment history including service jobs, was that I wasn't paid for time I wasn't clocked in. Which should not really apply unless one is over an hour late.
posted by Sara C. at 4:24 PM on September 8, 2010


I think you would be justified in speaking to the superintendent in very strong terms, here.

Something like:

'Listen, I do not like this policy. I think it amounts to a ridiculous level of regimentation for an elementary school. Worse, it threatens to blame and shame my child for something she has no control over, since I am the one taking her to school, not to mention that the so-called offense is essentially trivial in the first place!

I am not comfortable placing my child in the hands of people who would even think this way. I thought I was sending her to elementary school, not prison day-camp.

If you think this is appropriate, then I have to wonder what is really going on here. Are you trying to drive parents like me, parents who expect their to children to be cared for and respected by the administrators of their schools, out of the public school system altogether?

Because that's exactly what you are doing with policies like this.'

I would try to have a phone conversation with someone as high up as I could find in the most prominent teacher's union in Texas prior to your meeting with the superintendent. I'd ask them what they thought about about this, since they, at least, certainly want to keep you in the system.
posted by jamjam at 4:28 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


They want to control the behavior of the parents. The only way to do that effectively is to hit those parents where it hurts -- the futures of their children. They're playing the "THIS WILL GO ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD" card with the even greater leverage of parental guilt.

They are also instilling fear in the children through the threat of undeserved punishment, which is a very effective means of control.

It's a sad and desperate tactic, and while I am most assuredly not a lawyer, I suspect that the boundary for it is where the rules interfere with the child's right to education.

That said, fighting the principle of the thing seems to me a poor way to achieve real results. I would advise getting involved with the school board/PTA/whatever. If your kid is actually penalized, fight it. If you hear that some other kid is being penalized unfairly, help them get an affordable lawyer.
posted by desuetude at 4:29 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee: ""Policy comes from The Board of Trustees. Folks like you."

private_idaho makes a good point: Nothing is stopping the OP from running for school board, which is the surest way of addressing moronic policies. It was a particularly bad transportation issue that was the tipping point that convinced me to run.
"

I think it is a mistake to run for school board on a specific issue platform. What do you do when you solve (or lose the vote) on that one issue? Run for the board if you are committed to education, helping the community, and understand the time commitment and personal sacrifice that comes with the position. Also know that while in most states there are sunshine laws that say everything except legal and personnel issues must be discussed in public, the administrators and educators who set policy like this have access to way more information than you do sitting at home second guessing them. Even in this case where you have some valid points.

I would arrange a sit down with the Superintendent and discuss the issue. Listen to his or her reasoning for having the rule. See whom it benefits and whom it hurts and why. THen if you still disagree write a letter and come to a board meeting and speak out in public during the public comment period. Talk to the head of the PTA if there is one. What is their take on the issue and why? Speak to the head of the teacher's union and see what they think.

This could be a really stupid rule or it could be a really beneficial one. As you said, you yourself are unlikely to be directly affected by it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:37 PM on September 8, 2010


From the OP:
I met with the superintendent of the school yesterday evening. Understand I still have not, nor will I employ the fact I am an attorney, as some of the above have mentioned it gets nowhere in reality.

The superintendent has agreed to meet with elementary principals about the rule. One thing of note in the meeting yesterday is that the rule was created outside the administration, by the principals of the elementary school. In reviewing all other handbooks including high school, the rule was not there, nor from the one the administration puts out.

They were specifically persuaded by the argument that punishment is meant to modify behavior and in this instance it really can't modify the child's behavior. As I had stated to the principal and the teacher it seems to be the most reasonable compromise is a parent will either inform the school the tardy is not their fault (the child's) or if it is inform them, one of the two.

In times past if my child was to receive lunch detention for a tardy I have said I would sit in it instead, and bring McDonald's (or something of that nature) to my child to assure them it was not something they did wrong, but I did (provided the tardies were my fault). My child has never been in that position because they are there on time. The rule itself is what bothered me.

As I stated above, my own child is not aware of my riff with the school on this matter. They don't even know I spoke to the teacher, principal, etc about the issue because I don't ever want them to think that a rule may not apply to them solely if their parent can argue against it. It was more about the rule on its face that seemed harsh, and once the administration realized it had good intentions but a bad outcome, and its not even district wide they agreed to change it.
Thank you all for your input and it was definitely a good read to hear all points of view.
--
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:00 AM on September 9, 2010


I feel your pain. We're also in a Texas school district with this same rule. What makes it worse is the traffic situation for drop off at the school. It can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to get through the drop off area, and there is no other place where children can be safely dropped off...but they're counted as tardy, even if you've been in the line for more than 30 minutes. (We're not allowed to use visitor parking, we have to use a single lane that goes around the back of the school, and they expect all 5 grades, with 5 classes for each grade, so 500+ kids, to use a single drop off point.) So, some parents are now getting there an hour before school, and waiting in line so their kid is first in the door, but it makes the traffic even worse, because by 7am, 50+ cars are already backed up to the public street. The public street will be backed up for a mile in each direction by 7:15 and stay that way until 8am.

It is one of the most astounding wastes of gas, time and transportation I have ever seen... For the record, I carpool a lot of the kids on our block to school because my time schedule is more flexible than most of the other parents. For me to make sure the kids are in the door by 8am, I have to be at the school no later than 7:15. Homeschooling looks better every single day.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:13 PM on September 9, 2010


SecretAgentSockpuppet: "I feel your pain. We're also in a Texas school district with this same rule. What makes it worse is the traffic situation for drop off at the school. It can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to get through the drop off area, and there is no other place where children can be safely dropped off...but they're counted as tardy, even if you've been in the line for more than 30 minutes. (We're not allowed to use visitor parking, we have to use a single lane that goes around the back of the school, and they expect all 5 grades, with 5 classes for each grade, so 500+ kids, to use a single drop off point.) So, some parents are now getting there an hour before school, and waiting in line so their kid is first in the door, but it makes the traffic even worse, because by 7am, 50+ cars are already backed up to the public street. The public street will be backed up for a mile in each direction by 7:15 and stay that way until 8am.

It is one of the most astounding wastes of gas, time and transportation I have ever seen... For the record, I carpool a lot of the kids on our block to school because my time schedule is more flexible than most of the other parents. For me to make sure the kids are in the door by 8am, I have to be at the school no later than 7:15. Homeschooling looks better every single day.
"

Consider parking a block or two away and walking the kids to the school. Will save a lot of time and will get the kids up and moving in the morning.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:47 PM on September 9, 2010


Johnny,

No sidewalks, HOA neighborhood with posted signs that don't allow parking on the street. Else we would have.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:58 PM on September 9, 2010


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