When your child's school announces a new policy, it can be a breeze or it can be a battle. As the parent of a child attending school, you have the right to speak up for or against new school policies.
For example, parents were less than pleased when a school announced a ban on bake sales featuring homemade cookies and muffins but approved fundraising sales of packaged snacks. The school reasoned that the policy would discourage childhood obesity by limiting calories and sodium in homemade goods. A furor arose among parents who disagreed with the ban, and they held a "bake-in" as their show of protest.
Many schools have established dress codes to enforce standards of decency, as well as a "balancing" between students of means and students from lower-income homes. But when a dress code crosses the line, parents get irate.
"A week before school was set to start last year, I received an email from the school saying there was now a ban on students wearing T-shirts with any sort of image or slogan on them," says "Jen," an anonymous mother. "That's all my son owns! And I was not going to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a whole new wardrobe for him."
Jen says she understands the school's difficult position of having to police students' choices of slogans, given that some lines of clothing for teens can bear racy messages, but she says, "Banning all messages on clothing is not the way to go."
It then becomes a free speech issue, which often gets parents up in arms. Jen and a collection of 50 other parents wrote a stern letter to the school and threatened to go to the school board, the media and their legal teams, and the school relented. For now. "They said they'd revisit the issue next year," Jen says.
School policies that attract parent protests often have to do with dress codes and students' personal expression, as well as food bans, sports team issues and the cutting of school funds for certain programs and clubs. Whatever the policy in question is, keep a few basic rules in mind if you wish to plan or participate in a parent protest:
--Be sure you have all the facts. Parents have jumped into protest mode after hearing gossip about an upcoming ban on clothing, jewelry, food, etc. No email had been sent, no announcement made. And a vortex of drama ensued. Before you launch an attack, speak with a school administrator to check on the details.
--Meet with other concerned parents about the issue. Ask for their feedback to assess your team's strength and unity. If no other parents are irate about the policy, you might choose to step back and give the policy some time, or you might choose to go it alone with a letter to the school board.
--Research precedent. Have any other schools established a policy like the one in question? What was the reaction and outcry? Did the media cover the protest? Was a school board reversal reached? Locating previous protests online could give you strong material for a well-worded letter to the school board.
--Research legalities. If you are an attorney or know one, assess the policy to determine whether it is truly a breach of your student's rights before you claim that it is. Some educational policies grant schools the right to make decisions in certain areas, and legal counsel can help you decipher those laws.
--Write a diplomatic letter to the school board, outlining your objections to the policy and demonstrating the harmful effects of the decision. Ask for a reversal, keeping in mind that a professional demeanor in a letter will give you better odds of an intelligent discussion and a potential resolution. Using aggressive or threatening wording in a letter -- for example, promising a legal battle that will destroy the school's budget -- is not the wisest tactic.
--Organize a group of parents to attend a school board meeting, requesting time to speak to the issue. Some boards only grant speakers a set number of minutes to voice concerns, so know the limits to your representative's time. Many boards welcome input and documentation (such as signed petitions) and will agree to work on the matter outside of a public forum.
If your first diplomatic attempts are met with disregard or disdain, then it's time to organize a peaceful protest that does not break any laws. For instance, don't try to block traffic in front of the school, or arrests may be made. A peaceful, law-abiding protest allows you to be heard.
Contact the media, such as local newspapers and television stations, to cover your protest. Their presence and the exposure of the school's policy in the community may encourage more productive communication to solve the issue.
Express gratitude to the school board if and when a compromise is reached.
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