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August 12, 2002

In Our Schools, Parents Are The Problem

John W. Ashbury

Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) is beset with major problems. We hear so often about the lack of funds from the county commissioners and the lack of academic achievement across the board. However, the biggest issue facing both educrats and the public are parents.

In actuality, money isn't the real problem. First of all we need the members of the board of education to stop accepting as gospel what they are told by the educrats who, all too often, present themselves as all seeing and all knowing, almost to the point of infallibility. They aren't.

Another major problem is the number of students who appear on the honor rolls of their schools. No one will ever convince me that 65 percent of students in middle and high school are actually earning all those A's and B's. That's simply ludicrous.

Grade inflation reared its ugly head years ago. Teachers were evaluated on the basis of the grade point average of the students in their classes. Lousy teachers just gave higher grades to the under-performing students and kept their jobs. Most teachers don't fall into this category, but enough of them do to give all of them a bad reputation.

We are in the midst of selecting four new members of the Board of Education. So far we haven't heard much about what any of them stand for. Jean Smith, who is probably the most dedicated member, and Daryl Boffman are seeking election to the positions to which they were appointed.

The Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) endorsed Mr. Boffman, but because Ms. Smith doesn't agree with the FCTA position on what should be negotiated, she wasn't endorsed. That's a shame. There is hope here that FCTA members will realize the constant support Ms. Smith has given to them over the years and will support her election.

Dr. Michael Schaden and Bonnie Borsa have been involved with school activities for many years and have demonstrated an earnest desire to learn what the school board position really entails. Little has been heard or seen of the other six candidates.

But what they all will learn, no matter who gets elected, is that the parents of the children in the school system are at the crux of all the problems within our public schools.

Examples of classic stupidity have arisen across the country, though not here as yet. In Ohio a parent and her daughter sued for $6 million, arguing that the school's grading policies punished the child for repeated absences.

In Kansas parents threatened to sue when a biology teacher failed 28 students on a project the teacher said students plagiarized. Because of the threat, school officials reduced the penalties the students received and ordered the teacher to change the project's weight on the semester grades. The teacher resigned, demonstrating real integrity.

It appears that a good lawyer and plenty of money to support a suit are changing the way school systems establish policies, which greatly effect the way our children learn. But, more importantly, such reaction to threats of legal action is effecting what the students learn.

During the 2000 campaign for three positions on the Frederick County school board, the six finalists attended a forum at Catoctin High School. They were asked, what should be done when a parent demands that a grade be changed? One candidate gave THE answer of the entire campaign. She said: "Sometimes you just have to tell the parents to 'Buzz Off!'"

And at a forum at Brunswick High School another candidate told the audience, when asked how to get parents more involved in school activities, that there are simply some parents who will never get involved - "no matter what."

The problem is really that some parents are so protective of Little Johnny and Janie that they will do almost anything to ensure their child's success - even if it is false success.

Teacher after teacher have told me that when parent-teacher conferences are held, they seldom see the parents they really need to see. And they see no solution, unless the parents are summoned to the school because their child has misbehaved in some fashion. Results from such meetings are often mixed. The parent scolds the child, but that becomes the only penalty.

These same teachers say that all too often when a parent comes storming into the school over some perceived problem with their child, the school principals and assistant principals side with the parent before even hearing the teacher's side of the matter. Shamefully, sometimes the principal will admonish the teacher in front of the parent. That makes for a great working environment, doesn't it?

Maybe the teachers' union should be more public about the lack of support from the educrats instead of always harping on how much money they can squeeze out of the taxpayers. Maybe, just maybe, the union would get greater public support if it preached about the problems teachers have with their educratic supervisors.

For example, why in the world are we paying some teachers in excess of $50,000 per year to stand hall, bus or cafeteria duty? Wouldn't it be wiser to let the teachers have this time for planning, or just plain down time from dealing with a room full of rowdy, disrespectful kids, instead of dealing with a bus full, a hall full, or a cafeteria full of those same kids times 10?

We have to let the teachers TEACH! And we have to support them when confronted by outrageous parental behavior. We don't always do that.

Most parents act responsibly in school situations. But there are those who do not. Those are the ones to fear, for their behavior can led to policy changes which detrimentally effect all students. And that's bad for every child.

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