Schools benefit from parent involvement

Opinion

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I am shocked by the vitriolic tone of L. Branch's letter to Wednesday Journal [Burke, Berman should be part of the solution, Viewpoints, Nov. 16]. As the parent of a child with disabilities, I have the greatest admiration for Ms. Burke and Mr. Berman because they are putting "their energy toward something that would benefit their daughter and the other students of the special education program."

When Ms. Burke and Mr. Berman became aware of problems in the special education program at OPRF High School, they began to advocate for changes that would benefit their daughter, other students, and the community as a whole. Less courageous parents would have withdrawn their child from OPRF, which is what I did, rather than struggle to reform the system. Education is a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for cognitively, emotionally, and physically enabled children and so-called gifted students (United Nations Declaration of Human Rights). Yet the District 200 Board of Education and OPRF administrators perpetually take an oppositional, defensive stance when questions are raised about the quality of the special education program and about the now well-documented achievement gap that disenfranchises poor and minority students in Oak Park and River Forest. Like L. Branch, board members and administrators respond to parents' legitimate concerns by accusing them of lying.

I taught in elementary and middle schools for five years. For the last 10 years, I have taught literature courses to secondary education majors at Purdue University Calumet. Teaching is a difficult vocation. My experience and the scholarship suggest that schools benefit from parent involvement. Partnerships among schools, parents, and citizens improve the quality of education for all students. Solutions to the issues that Ms. Burke, Mr. Berman, and others have identified will emerge only when OPRF administrators and the board of education are willing to collaborate with parents rather than denounce them as trouble-makers. Frankly, OPRF is rife with problems that include privileging high-achieving students at the expense of others, frequent violence, and soaring rates of drug and alcohol use. The school's leadership should be begging parents such as Ms. Burke and Mr. Berman for help rather than dismissing their efforts to improve our community's schools.

The public school where my daughter currently is enrolled maintains such partnerships. Even though I do not live in that community, every contact I have had with administrators and teachers has been courteous. My questions and concerns have been responded to promptly and with the attitude that the job of faculty and staff is to provide my daughter the best possible learning environment. My daughter is thriving there. I wish that I could say the same about OPRF.

Colette Morrow, M.Ed., Ph.D.
Oak Park

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