Thursday, February 7, 2019

School Blames Sick 2nd Grader for Funding Shortages

Or, Principal Sends Obscene Memo to Parents
Or, The Memo I Can't Show You

The Children Are Watching 

Well, maybe not obscene in the way you may be thinking, but definitely not up to “the moral standards of the community.” How else to describe a note to parents accusing them of costing the school money by keeping a sick child at home?

The color-coded form bears the name of the school and the ominous opening line: “To the parents of __[our second-grader]_____________.” Then, “We are sending this letter to inform you that your child has missed ______ days of school so far for the 2018-2019 school year.” Presumably something the parents of a 7-year-old would be aware of.

Then the real message: “Our average daily attendance drives our school budget….Every day your child is in school, we earn about $20 for our school budget.” Then a sentence claiming that as of mid-January of this school year, the school has “lost” tens of thousands of dollars due to student absences. “If a child is absent (excused or unexcused) we lose funding.”

That the child also loses a day of instruction seems added as an after-thought. The form is signed by the principal.

When I first saw this memo, sent to me by the child’s parent, its pre-printed format looked to be an official document of the school district, something I’d post here so you should it see for yourselves and not think I was making this up! But in checking with teachers at other schools, which I do when a school policy seems too absurd to be real, I learned that to their knowledge, the district requires no such message to parents. One elementary math teacher said it best, “We certainly don’t want sick children to come to school.” Neither does the CDC. Neither does the American Pediatric Association. Nor public health officials at all levels. Only keeping hands washed ranks above staying away from others is promoted as sound disease prevention.

What’s missing here? First, any concern or compassion and offer to help the child learn what she might have missed while she was out sick.

Even more obviously omitted is any message that parents and teachers – and this principal – need to join together to fight for full, adequate, equitable funding for the schools. The idea that school attendance “drives our budget” is ridiculous. There was a time when school funding, especially the state’s share, was based on a school’s enrollment; enrollments were set by the number of
students enrolled as of a certain arbitrarily chosen day, usually in October. Not a perfect formula, but one that stayed stable over the school year. A shift to dollars-per-daily attendance mocks the vagaries of childhood illnesses, flu season itself, and parents’ good-faith compliance with pediatric and public health directives, to say nothing of the factors like poverty, lack of transportation, or language barriers that directly impact children's ability to come to school.  Blaming the children instead of the legislature, the governor and lieutenant governor, the drastic cuts by a previous governor (you, Rick Perry) which have never been fully restored, and more recently the millions drained from the public’s schools by the charter chains – absurd, undemocratic, and anti-child. I can only imagine how a less informed parent, or a parent new to American schools,  would feel on getting this notice: “your child is costing us money! Is she really, really, really sick enough to stay home?” Would your child face punishment? Your family maybe be billed for the $20?

When will educators and parents place the blame where it belongs? When will we all join in common cause to demand the funding our schools need for all our children to learn and for all our children and families to thrive? For all our teachers to do their best work? And for administrators to say no to harsh, degrading policies that undermine their good judgment?

We're seeing this courage around the country: Families and students joined to support LA teachers who walked out in strike on their behalf. Teachers in very red states, with no union protection, walked out to demand living wages for themselves and instructionally-sound funding for their schools. Texas teachers have for too long taken scarcity for granted. And now their principals, afraid of the “accountability” calculus that punishes them for children’s absences, shift the blame to the youngest, the sickest, the least powerful: the children. We’ve seen this in the harmful effects of the testing system, with the children who don’t test well blamed for low school ratings and even school closings. Struggling learners triaged out as liabilities to their school ratings. Now the sick kids get the blame for the state’s failure to fund our schools?  The state's refusal to fund them abundantly, in proportion to the state’s incredible wealth? The state whose economy is said to be the world’s 10th largest?

You see now why I call the bright yellow memo obscene: if it does reflect our communities’ shared moral standards, we are in deep trouble. And so are the children.

Here are links to bills currently before the Texas legislature this very session TEXAS FREEDOM NETWORK and to the House and Senate legislative committees charged with funding, sustaining, and protecting our public schools. And if you’re a principal or school board member or PTO president, why not hold an information session for parents to learn how our schools are funded, and under-funded, and which state officials have the power to make changes. Do it now, while the legislature is in session!

They need to hear from you: the children are watching.

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