Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Whose kid is it, anyway?

While I have been railing against the a burgeoning paternal government with each new policy and regulation designed for our own good, I recently got a shocking reminder of just how parental it had already become.

In discussing vacation plans with a friend, she said that she couldn’t take her daughter out of school for vacation next year (5th grade) because the school wouldn’t allow it. What? Where do you live, I asked incredulously knowing full well where (in my own state), but trying to make a point.

Apparently the school makes life very difficult for your child should you not choose that attendance at school, each and every day it is open, is in the best-interest of your child.

From her school district:


The AnyTown School Committee and the Anytown Public Schools believe in the importance of regular attendance by all students. Students are expected to attend school 181 days since vacation periods are built into the yearlong school calendar.

Except in cases of illness and extenuating circumstances, students are expected to be present when school is in session. Parents are strongly urged not to schedule family vacations during school days and not to extend the scheduled vacation periods.

Should a parent choose to keep a student out of school for reasons other than illness or extenuating family circumstances, teachers will provide the normal range of assistance upon the student's return to school. However, it is the student's responsibility for identifying and making up missed work.

Teachers are not required to provide advance assignments to students, and the school and the individual teacher(s) are not required to assume responsibility for providing individual tutoring or extensive individual help for the student when he/she returns.

Adopted by the AnyTown School Committee, 2007

I certainly don’t have a problem with what this policy says about making up missed work, but clearly there is a threatening tone issued to any parent who decides that something other than blind attendance at school would be in her child’s best interest.

This state, in its wisdom, has decided that a minimum of 180 days and 900 hours (for elementary) and 990 hours (for secondary) of instruction is what is in the best-interest of your child.
And I do mean period.

603 CMR 27.00: Student Learning Time

27.01: Authority, Scope and Purpose
27.02: Definitions
27.03: School Year Requirements
27.04: Structured Learning Time Requirements
27.05: Early Release of High School Seniors
27.06: Waivers
27.07: Implementation

27.01: Authority, Scope and Purpose
(2) The purpose of 603 CMR 27.00 is to ensure that every public school in the Commonwealth provides its students with the structured learning time needed to enable the students to achieve competency in "core subjects" and "other subjects" as defined in 603 CMR 27.02. [emphasis added]

I appreciate the utility of both structure and time in my homeschooling practices, but neither guarantees competency. What is so ludicrous is that there is NO WAY IN HELL the kids are “learning” that many hours. It’s a bunch of arbitrary nonsense!

27.04: Structured Learning Time Requirements
(1) No later than the 1997 - 1998 school year, schools shall ensure that every elementary school student is scheduled to receive a minimum of 900 hours per school year of structured learning time, as defined in 603 CMR 27.02. Time which a student spends at school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes, in homeroom, at recess, in non-directed study periods, receiving school services, and participating in optional school programs shall not count toward meeting the minimum structured learning time requirement for that student.
(2) No later than the 1997 - 1998 school year, all schools shall ensure that every secondary school student is scheduled to receive a minimum of 990 hours per school year of structured learning time, as defined in 603 CMR 27.02. Time which a student spends at school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes, in homeroom, at recess, in non-directed study periods, receiving school services, and participating in optional school programs shall not count toward meeting the minimum structured learning time requirement for that student. [emphasis added]

Has anyone been in a school lately? Without time passing between classes, school services and optional school programs, they’d basically have math class for an hour a day. The rest of the classes are full of enrichment activities, assemblies, free periods, nurses visits, computer room time, etc. That’s it - just math would remain. Besides, doesn’t the non-directed study provision conflict with the definition of structured learning time?

27.02: Definitions
Structured learning time shall mean time during which students are engaged in regularly scheduled instruction, learning activities, or learning assessments within the curriculum for study of the "core subjects" and "other subjects." In addition to classroom time where both teachers and students are present, structured learning time may include directed study, independent study, technology-assisted learning, presentations by persons other than teachers, school-to-work programs, and statewide student performance assessments.
[emphasis added]

What’s worse, the schools (perhaps only on a local level - I'd need to research more) have legal authority to withhold credit (fail class, stay back) if the child has been out for more than the seven excused absences in a semester. Note from a parent? Not an excusable absence!

From the same local district:

Excused and Unexcused Absences

Examples of excused absences are absences for illness of the student (a doctor’s certificate is required for an absence of 5 days or more), a medical appointment (a doctor or dentist certificate should be provided for appointments scheduled during the school day), death in the student’s family, observance of a religious holiday, court appointments, college visits, or school sanctioned absences.

An unexcused absence occurs when school-aged children are absent from school, with or without parental approval, for any other reasons, (such as family vacation, doing errands, cutting classes, etc.)
[emphasis in original]

So how can a large institution better meet the actual, individual educational needs of each child? Allowing the parents to take responsibility for their own children might help.

Each time I sign my daughter out of her “independent study” last class of the day, I leave the “Reason ” in the sign-out sheet blank. It feels good. Perhaps I need to do more.


Jenn Casey said...

It's the same here in GA. A child in school will have an unexcused absence for participation in a family wedding. No ringbearer/flower girl privileges--especially if the wedding is out of town and requires travel! The child can't even attend a wedding! Those events are not important enough to miss school--and there are NO EXCEPTIONS to this rule (adopted several years ago). They're just begging parents to lie.

Once you sign your kid up for government school, you have signed over a goodly portion of your rights as a parent to make decisions for and about your child.

In loco parentis. Loco, indeed.

Lynne said...

Again I think, where is the outrage? Do most people not know this, ignore it, have adopted the "can't fight city hall" attitude?

My guess is that these policies (or in some cases, regulations) have not been tested yet. People are understandably reticent to use their own children as test cases.

You've got a great point. These arbitrary rules just serve to make the law an obstacle to be overcome.

Jenn Casey said...

I've seen no outrage. My friends have a kid in public K for the first time--they sigh about the restrictions on their schedule, but don't seem to be angry. They say "Wow, it must be nice to take as long of a vacation as you like any time you like." I agree, of course (homeschoolers are not required to follow the school schedule exactly).

Other parents in my neighborhood accept it with a quiet resignation, if they think to question it at all.

Kim said...

It would be all well and good for the parents to deal with such restrictions in a school they were able to choose for themselves. The opposite of the existing situation.

You have a great point, of course, about school time in no way equating to competent teaching or learning. A local paper had a great article about the same time Connecticut was investigating some homeschooling families for educational neglect. He said, paraphrasing, "How can the state decide when individual families are guilty of 'education neglect' when 40% of the children graduating from Hartford public schools are functionally illiterate."

HaynesBE said...

In our local schools, the teachers are required to give the students failing marks for the days of any unexcused absence. Our list looks pretty much the same as yours.
Most teachers have been reasonable and overlooked the rule ...like when I took Ben out of school for 2days to attend an birding festival.He had 4 days of lectures and filed trips..much more intensive learnign than what occurs in his regular classes.

No, I don't see the outrage. Most people just lie.

HaynesBE said...

Oh, yeah.. you know its all about the money. The school gets its funding from the state based on DAILY attendence, not on how many kids are registered as students. So if your child isn't there for a day, they loose that day's pay.

Lynne said...

I didn't know that! That's fascinating. So now things are becoming a little more clear.