The District 97 board recently amended policy 9150, which governs classroom visitations by parents and other adults [Visitation policy does not follow law: District 97 board, News, April 20]. Unfortunately these changes are a step backward from current, less-restrictive trends that are taking place across the country, and they further restrict parents from visiting their school's classrooms.
Last week I asked the district to allow me to sit in for 40 minutes in a fourth-grade teacher's class at Mann Elementary School. My daughter currently is in third grade and I expressed an interest to visit a fourth-grade class as part of my preparation for my daughter's next school year.
District 97 denied this request. I requested them to cite a specific section of 9150, but they failed to. I replied stating that my request was in accordance of the policy, specifically the section that states: "Parents/guardians of current students visit the schools for various reasons, including: Observing an educational placement or program that has or may be proposed for their child." But my request was still denied. There "no" language in the policy that restricts parents from visiting classrooms other than the one that their child is enrolled in.
Furthermore the district insinuated that the purpose of my request was to visit the fourth-grade classes in order to "shop for the best teacher" for my daughter. Then they had the audacity to make vague references that my presence in the classroom may affect the safety of their staff. As a last resort I have filed a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
Parents are the first teachers to their children and they spend the other 17 hours of the day with their children, when they are not in class. Recognizing this, many school systems across the country embrace parental visitation to their schools, knowing that an informed parent is a parent who can most influence their children's educational outcomes.
Here's the typical language used by open schools, such as the one in Charles County Maryland (www.ccobe.com):
Parents/guardians are encouraged to come to their child's school during normal operating hours. Parents/guardians may either visit the classroom (including the playground) at the teacher's/school's invitation or request a formal observation of a classroom.
Plain and simple, No ifs or buts!
It seems that the current board is making it harder for 80 percent of the parents to access school classrooms. If you're a parent of a special ed student or a parent of a student in a program funded by Title I funds, then the school bends over backwards to accommodate school visitation.
Increasingly, parents like me, who are passionate about our children's elementary education, are being restricted, and the changes in the visitation policy are a reflection of this. In this day and age when many school districts have a hard time getting their parents involved, District 97 chooses to put more road blocks in the path of interested parents.
It's time that parents send a clear message to this board; what is required is more transparency and less restriction for parents who want to visit a school classroom. District 97's board should embrace parent visitation as part of our children's learning process and emphatically welcome it. It's time to do what is right and change the restrictive visitation language.
Noel Kuriakos is an 11-year Oak Park resident, parent of two kids attending District 97 schools and founder of Students First of Oak Park, a new organization for parents and citizens that "promotes educational reform and excellence for 21st century learners."