Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water

Written by: 
Aubrey Freedman
Image source: Metrónomo, CC BY-SA 2.5, from Wikimedia Commons

Why do government bureaucrats often throw common sense out the window with inflexible, illogical rules?  A perfect example comes from Southern California where the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which is the second largest in the nation, has started enforcing a policy it’s had for years but has largely been ignoring.  Now that enforcement began earlier this school year, parents are rightly up in arms.

For years the school district required volunteers “who had a lot of contact with students” to be fingerprinted, but only “at the discretion of the principal.”  Rarely was any parent volunteer ever fingerprinted, yet none of the children seem to be any the worse for it.  But this year, only six weeks before the start of school, the school district suddenly announced that all volunteers who have any contact with students must be fingerprinted.  Never mind that many parents had already been volunteering in the classroom for years without incident—fingerprinting required anyway, no exceptions.

Adding to the bureaucratic chaos was a process that involved several steps for parents that included: 1) the appointment for fingerprinting must be made in the school office by the office staff; 2) the fingerprinting must only be done at one of only 7 sites available in a huge sprawling area like Los Angeles; 3) the parent must pick up the badge in person at the school once cleared; and 4) the parent must pay a $56.00 fee charged by the FBI and US Department of Justice for the fingerprinting.  Needless to say, all these burdensome steps caused many parents to think twice before volunteering this year and threw school programs run entirely by parents like math, science, and gardening activities and festivals into a complete quandary.  While virtually all parents were not opposed to the idea of fingerprinting to keep dangerous adults out of the classroom, many questioned why the school district made it so hard for parents to complete the process.

First of all, why announce the edict only 6 weeks before the start of the school year?  Prudent planning and organization need to be done in advance, not on the fly, so cutting off the supply of volunteers at the last minute messed up the teachers’ schedules for volunteer-heavy programs.  Second, why insist that office staff make the appointments for the parents themselves, and even if so, why insist the parents schlepp over to the school just to request the appointment?  Many families have both parents working these days, and requiring a ridiculous extra trip to the school during the day when most parents are working is just plain silly.  Furthermore, with all the administrative burden that federal, state, and local laws require of school staff—and teachers—these days, why foist extra, unnecessary work on short-handed administrative staff?  Then there’s the issue of so few sites available for the fingerprinting.  To expect parents—and often ones with few means or spare time available—to drive clear across town in a very large city with legendary traffic problems is really pushing it for the school board.  If the school district was using its noodle, it should have either opened up more fingerprinting sites closer to other schools—even if temporarily—or brought in mobile live-scans to school sites.  As for paying for the $56.00 fee, while paying for a service rendered is not an unreasonable requirement, many parents of children attending government schools—especially in the LAUSD where over 80% of the students come from low-income households—simply do not have extra money to throw around.  Lastly, the whole process of fingerprinting requires the parent to present a Social Security number and a California driver’s license or ID card, which would obviously be another roadblock for undocumented parents, especially in the LAUSD where 25% of the students have at least one undocumented parent.

It should be rather obvious that parental involvement in their children’s education makes all the difference between successful and failing schools.  Throwing more taxpayer money at government schools does little to improve the outcome unless parents are involved.  Even though it’s primarily the teachers who do the teaching, parental involvement gives teachers the support and reinforcement they need to succeed in their jobs.  When my son went to Clarendon Elementary School years ago, it was an actual requirement that parents volunteer—if not in the classroom, then at least at school events or in some other way.  It’s no surprise then that Clarendon was—and still is according to one of my neighbors—one of the most sought-after schools in The City’s lottery assignment system.  For independent religious schools, similarly many require so many volunteer hours to be put in by parents—or pay additional tuition.

For the LAUSD to make it so difficult and put up so many barriers against free voluntary labor, is it any wonder government schools are graduating students so poorly that community colleges have become remedial schools?  Shouldn’t the folks in charge be making it easier to get more help from parents?  Why antagonize and frustrate those the school district needs the most?  Why expect students to turn out as responsible citizens of the world when the adults in charge show such poor judgment?

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Image source: Metrónomo, CC BY-SA 2.5, from Wikimedia Commons