When Parents Behave Badly

Jan 30, 2019 by

Standing inches from a teacher’s face and cursing or otherwise physically intimidating or threatening staff members, shrieking about their child’s grade or assignment of seat in class,or cursing about some perceived injustice and creating a public disturbance:  are these good enough reasons to keep an extra eye on parents who do so?

If a parent has a history of causing disturbances in their child’s school, should the principal require that parent to notify the school when they’re coming to visit and that they be escorted by a school safety agent to assure decorum?

This should be a rhetorical question, but even questions that have only a single answer are multiple choice these days.

The correct answer is “yes”, although it is under fire. Or should we say differences of opinion.

To contain parents at high-risk of instability by subjecting them to the modified terms of access to school, principals can issue a “Limited Access Letter”. They should do so much more often.

Principals have the power to take this action, but though they normally luxuriate in the exercise of raw authority (usually when disciplining teachers), courage may fail them when it is put to the test of whether to protect safety at the expense of a potential public relations snafu.

Principals get constant reminders, in memos, e-mails, at meetings where proceedings are recorded and where they are not, of the expectation that they mollify irate or activist parents who may have an inclination to make waves with the media, courts, or advocacy organizations.  Of course the DOE uses “kid gloves” in the way they verbalize the message, but its injunctions are clear. Being disgruntled is no proof of a righteous position, whether employee or parent.

“Limited Access Letters” are slightly more common than Honus Wagner baseball cards. The DOE won’t say how many Limited Access Letters have been sen. A Freedom of Information query a few years ago revealed that these statistics are neither stored nor tracked centrally but are kept at individual schools in some form left to their discretion.

Generally speaking, keeping information out of the hands of the DOE is a good idea for the same reason as is keeping matches away from small children.

Parent empowerment is very much in vogue these days; the more the better.  Unfortunately this may embolden some parents who may be immature, whose histories may be tainted or whose motives may be suspect. Given a choice of strengthening the empowerment of parents at a cost of weakening safety to staff and students, it’s clear which should win out.  But in reality, one has nothing to do with the other.

Empowerment doesn’t mean more power. It means positive engagement in one’s child’s learning. The word “empowerment” is valid and reputable, but tends to be co-opted and sometimes used as code used by those who presume to claim unconditional license to impose their will on educational professionals.Just as there are standards of demeanor in courts and restaurants, there are for schools also. Parents who can’t behave must have their access compromised, subject to review.

A ‘Limited Access Letter”does not bar parents from visiting their children’s schools . They simply provide a “heads up” and enhanced screening based on documented reasons.
The inconvenience did not happen to them. It’s something they did to themselves.

The “Limited Access Letter” is among the more benign DOE documents.

Ron Isaac

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.