#FamilyFriday – Parents Must Hold Schools Accountable

#FamilyFriday – Parents Must Hold Schools Accountable

#FamilyFriday is a weekly series of voices from the field of families and advocates from across the State of New Mexico. Each Friday, a new voice will be posted. If you would like to submit a blog post for consideration of publication, please submit it to Family.Liaison@state.nm.us. Enjoy and share!

Parents must hold schools accountable

By Bonnie Murphy, School Family Partnership Academy Member

After talking to hundreds of families over the last few months about their children and their school experiences, I have realized that there are just too many schools out there not doing their students and families right, and nobody else is talking about it. New Mexico has laws that tell schools, administrators and teachers how to deliver high quality education for the best interests of the students. We also have Administrative Codes that tell school administrators how to run schools. This gives them a lot of responsibility but a lot of freedom. This definitely isn’t working.

How would I know? My entire working career, since I was 19 years old, has been spent in some form of education, but I have recently left teaching and administration because this project is more important right now. Honestly- knowledge, experience, and training helps, but the key is what I have learned about education through the eyes of parents who tell me story after story of how they think schools have failed their children.

Most parents just want to make it better, not to add drama, embarrassment or backlash for their already struggling children. They are trapped in the boundaries of their district school, so they devise a plan to enroll their child in a different school, tell their child to suck it up or fight back, or try talking to the school about their concerns. Unfortunately, these don’t always solve the problem because parents simply don’t know what they don’t know. However, not all situations end up unresolved for all children and families and not all schools and teachers are failing all children. The key is how educated parents are about school laws and policies and how knowledgeable and honest teachers and school administrators are.

New Mexico just lost a major lawsuit accusing [the state of] inappropriately educating many children. The public blames the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED), funding, teacher quality, teacher preparation programs, and the list goes on. These issues are important, but they miss what is actually going on at ground level. The judge in this lawsuit ordered the NMPED to come up with a plan by April, of next year! NMPED has taken definite steps in the right direction and made progress, but it takes time, and there is an election for governor around the corner. I know of so many families who need help with their issues with schools right now. They can’t wait.

The biggest and most positive impact on the education of all youth of New Mexico could be educating and mobilizing the sheer masses of families to keep schools accountable for doing what they are supposed to be doing. There is nobody more concerned about their children’s futures than parents. They just need to know how.

Now, what good would it do for families all over the state to suddenly file a rash of lawsuits and send our schools and Public Education Department into constant fighting and money-draining court battles? Not much, when you really think about it. Parents simply want their children’s schools providing what their children need by following the laws, rules and policies already in place to make their education better, to access needed supports and increase their child’s opportunities. PED should begin more detailed data collection, disclose to the public all schools’ adherence to the laws and policies, and enforce accountability.

My suggestion is for parents to rise up in masses with your tools of knowledge in hand to hold your child’s school accountable. Make sure your child’s school and teachers know that you know what they are supposed to be doing. Parents are going to help change New Mexico’s education history.

 

7 Replies to “#FamilyFriday – Parents Must Hold Schools Accountable”

  1. Bonnie, can you be more specific about your comment of parents knowing what the schools and teachers are supposed to be doing …can you note specifics

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Certainly! One example I can give is when a child is struggling academically or behaviorally and is not proficient in reading, but they are not placed in the SAT process, even after Tier 1 interventions have been unsuccessful.
      As you know, after 1-2 years of not making sufficient gains and after their one and only retention waiver having been signed, the parents still may not know that there was a skipped step in their child’s education and then their child is retained.
      The whole time there is confusion, anger and blame circling around the dynamics of the family and the school. Parents (and even teachers) can feel shame and helplessness for not having caught the child up.
      Some families take their child to a different school and don’t say anything to the new school or to their family and friends, because they are embarrassed about their child’s performance or the stigma that is attached to being retained. Sometimes, they are afraid the new school will have to hold their child back, just as they wanted to do at the last school, so they don’t say anything and hope they brought their child to a school that will work miracles. That could add fear and guilt to their already possibly stress- filled lives.
      Unfortunately, many schools don’t have a system in place where student records are transferred immediately from Cumulative or Special Education files to the next school, so the child is enrolled in the same grade level as they would have been at the last school and there is no communication about where the child is at in their reading skills.
      Teachers in the new school may not figure out where that child ended up in reading in the last school until about a few weeks or months into the school year, depending on how practiced they are at using data to inform their instruction. That is wasted time for that child and every year the consequences compound.
      That is just one smaller example of what happens at some schools, not all, of course.
      Unfortunately, especially when parents find out that their child was not helped to the extent that the last school could have helped, through the policies and laws in place for this very reason, they feel resentful and frustrated, helpless and victimized. Parents are leery of some schools and have nothing but bad to say, but their criticisms are vague, not typically very specific, like much of the public’s criticisms. They don’t know what they don’t know. They just know that one school or another, sometimes more than one school, did not catch up their failing child because it can get harder and harder for teachers to do so every year they are behind and not receiving the proper interventions.
      There are times where a teacher, for another example, is unaware of the specific wording in NMAC 6.19.9 Early Literacy Remediation, Interventions, and Parental Engagement and NMSA § 22-2C-6 and if their school administrator(s) tells a teacher to do interventions, but they aren’t documented or if the parent isn’t involved in the Tier II intervention SAT plan, or the parent isn’t notified by the end of the 2nd quarter, etc., then the child’s school hasn’t done all that it can do to help the child.
      Sometimes, schools don’t inform parents of their child’s rights and don’t follow through with following the NM law and the NM administrative policies. Those schools give the rest of the schools in NM a bad reputation when families find out that their child was not given a high quality and equitable education, so families come into a new school on guard, confused, angry and can lose heart and hope in our educational system.
      The best way to solve this dilemma is to educate parents and families, teachers and the public about how schools are supposed to operate, so that if anyone at one of these kinds of schools tries to pull the wool over their eyes, they can advocate for their child(ren) and hold that school accountable to do what is right and lawful. Transparent schools welcome parents and families in. They have nothing to hide and welcome parents, families and teachers to hold them accountable, but they have little reason to when the school is already doing what is right. That builds trust, community and teamwork. Students feel it, families feel it, teachers feel it and the administration feels it. I could bet that you know what I am talking about because you have certainly experienced it.
      Parents and families must be the ones to ultimately hold schools accountable because they are the ones that will hopefully be there for their child for the rest of their educational experiences, not typically that school or that teacher.
      I know we all want to be there for our previous students as much as we can, but the reality is that if their family, hopefully, will be the ones supporting them through their education, and if the family doesn’t know how to support them, they can’t do it.

      I wrote that nearly 5 months ago and have learned so much since then. Unfortunately, through all of my efforts to learn about how our education system works and to learn from parents, families and community members and their experiences both inside and outside of the classroom this calendar year, I have learned of many more examples. I could go on, but it is more difficult to convey all of this in writing.

      Teachers and schools who are strong, principled, and willing to teach their families and walk with them, using every tool available to them to help their students succeed, and schools who are willing to be transparent and engage their families and teachers in ownership, contribution and leadership of this era of NM’s education history; those schools will ultimately be the brightest beacons of hope and trust for all of our communities.

      Thank you so much for asking, Nancy! I hope that helps.

  2. What is it, exactly, that teachers and schools are not doing or providing? I think it’s important for parents to meet us halfway. Parents are their child’s first and most important teacher. I am a National Board Certified Teacher and my school and colleagues are stellar.

    1. Hi Kathleen,
      I don’t know what school you work at, but I am sure you, your school and your colleagues have the very best of intentions and work very hard to do everything you can to improve the lives and educational opportunities of your students. What teacher doesn’t? I have felt the same way. There are very few other fields out there like ours that someone goes into knowing that what we are trying to do will be an extremely difficult challenge and that we will have to give it every ounce of our intentions in order to hopefully be successful.

      I don’t think all teachers are doing this, certainly not, but there are teachers making lists of students, in collaboration with their administrators, about which students they would prefer get “kicked out”, “pushed out”, “counseled out” or whatever other term it could be called, instead of helped, so the school can relieve themselves of the energy and money that it takes to help the child. Instead of going through a SAT process, developing an AIP or a BIP, and eventually possibly getting them some help through a diagnostic evaluation to see if they have a disability or a special need, these teachers and administration are working together to file referral after referral and build up “documentation“ that the child needs to be suspended. They will even go so far as to threaten the parent that the child will be expelled or will even bribe the parent that they will give their child an IEP, both in exchange for withdrawing the child and taking them to a different school. When a parent withdraws their child, there is no red flag raised at the PED that there is a higher than normal ratio of student suspensions or expulsions that would alert them to a set of unethical or illegal practices occurring.
      Parents should meet teachers and schools halfway in their child’s education, but what exactly does that mean? How much do we expect parents to know about how education works? Currently, these parents thank the schools that are offering to let them withdraw their child instead of expelling them, because they don’t realize that most of the time, the school should have followed the policies and laws in place to get their child help and they don’t know that suspensions and expulsions are a “red flag” to the PED, so administrators are not offering this out of the kindness of their hearts, but rather to keep themselves from getting in trouble, creating a paper trail or attracting attention to their choice not to help the child.

      These schools that are conducting themselves like this are developing a bad reputation for all schools, in general. Teachers who continue to participate in this collaborative and cruel practice are doing so unethically.

      It takes a tremendous amount of work and perseverance to develop trusting and productive relationships with students, parents and families who have come out of an experience like this. They may even seem like they don’t care, but they have been traumatized, bullied and broken. It has become a viscous cycle in New Mexico. It taxes our teachers and the public. Parents don’t know what the policies and laws are that schools are supposed to be following, so they are easily taken advantage of. In this sense, they can’t meet schools halfway. That is why we, as educators, have a responsibility to do the right thing by them. We are supposed to be the experts that they rely on.

      We all deserve more and better than this. That was just one example. My posts are long enough as it is, but I am constantly searching and trying new ways to convey more, so we can all be more aware and advocate for the children and families in our schools and communities either through educating them and more teachers so parents CAN meet us halfway or through walking beside them and holding our fellow teachers or administrators accountable, too. Teachers are in a perfect position to be able to do this. (Whistleblower Law) Parents aren’t. There are more parents out there, though, so if we did educate them, no matter where they and their children are, they would be able to advocate for their child in that school.

      Nearly 6 months of being out of an actual classroom, 3 months of being out of a school, and spending my time in hundreds of interviews and discussions later, whether the parent and family perspective about their children’s specific educational experiences are exactly correct or accurate or not, it is what the people of New Mexico think of our education system. It is a sad perspective and one of the main reasons why we don’t have more teachers in our classrooms today.

      We desperately need to educate the public about how schools really operate, what we are doing to fix things and if we are unclear on that ourselves, we better put in place systems that will clarify and make sure that is well known, so we can fix it.

      Our reputations and the very longevity of our teaching profession depends on it as do the futures of our youth.

      I am speaking out about the realities, so that they can be recognized and fixed, not to disparage anyone or my profession. If I don’t speak out, then I am ignoring the ignorance out there and avoiding the deepest issues in education, the ones that can’t be fixed without telling the truth and confronting them. I can’t live like that. I certainly can’t teach like that. I definitely can’t give up.

      I am doing what a lot of teachers can’t do right now, for either financial or other reasons. Believe me, I am working my tail off to try to fix these very real issues. I started to do this while working in a school as a teacher and as a member of the leadership team of another school, but after I was shut down by a prominent education blogger and a new school’s principal (best friends) and told not to speak out about these issues because I would cause “waves”, I decided that I can not be told by my colleagues or superiors what to say any longer, so I had no choice but to leave classrooms and schools and not work for any other organization where I would not be able to speak without retaliation.

      I am thankful for the bravery of NMTEACHREACH, to allow and even encourage my communications with actual teachers and parents who are concerned about these very issues and who are willing to debate or learn from each other publicly.

      That is a true representation of our First Amendment right and the ability to speak truth freely, in a courageous way that does not perpetuate the hate or anger that is felt by many who keep it bottled up and don’t speak. This is an opportunity to forgive and move forward with compassionate action to repair the brokenness in our society in the area of our current and future generations of our children’s Educations.

      Please, don’t hesitate to contact me further, if you have questions or would like to participate in a recorded discussion for one of our video productions. The Educators Speak Out series is starting now. My email is bmurphy@educatingnm.com, my website is educatingnm.com and my FB, YouTube and LinkedIn are also available.

      Thank you for reaching out, Kathleen! I applaud your efforts to be part of the conversation to fix education.

      Sincerely,
      Bonnie

  3. Kathleen, I am a parent of special education student who, because of his elementary special education teachers, was able to successfully be placed in an inclusion program for 4th and 5th grade. The gentleness, nurturing and love that my son received from his amazing teachers still brings tears to my eyes. His elementary teachers were absolutely amazing. However, they system failed his teachers by not educating the teachers about resources available to them, such as the assistive technology departments evaluation for kids with dyslexia. His amazing teachers scrounged up a lap top and programs for my son to use, because teachers are passionately resourceful. Then the system failed his teachers again when the middle school refused to attend a transitional IEP for my D-level son, and did not implement his IEP as they pulled the inclusion teacher out of Social Studies and Science to teach another class. Leaving his gen ed teachers without the support they need to support my son. Without support, my sons diagnoses worsen as his anxiety worsened his Tourette’s (vocal and facial tics), which worsened his ADD then he started failing which exacerbated his depression. He also stands out with his tics and the bullying started. In addition to gen ed, his special ed Language Arts class went through 5 teachers and Math went through 2 teachers. Despite many emails and requests for meetings, with most going unanswered from admin, we had a meeting and developed a plan that was never fully implemented. He ultimately started having suicidal ideation and we had to withdraw him from public school. The teachers were always trying to help, but their hands were tied, they didn’t have the support that was needed. He is now succeeding academically, emotionally and socially at a private special education school that is costing us $15,000, which is only $3000 more than what the district receives from the State Equalization Guarantee for my son. I don’t know what else they receive from Federal support.
    As a parent, I applaud you teachers and will forever be grateful to those amazing teachers that made such a difference in our lives. Thank you all, especially our special education teachers, given the system that you have to work in which ties your hands and puts limits on how successful my son can be.

  4. We have had a heck of a time with my autistic grandson’s school from pre-school to 2nd grade. He is now 9, third grade and has transitioned to 3rd grade in the same district, however a different school. My daughter was berated publicly by the principal of the previous school to the point of tears simply because she offered suggestions on how to better help Brady in his day to day classroom experience. In addition, that school staff has repeatedly called CYFD in retaliation against her. All reports were unsubstantiated and the investigator even told her it appeared to him to be retaliation. Brady has been isolated, restrained, expelled and punished for his meltdowns at school which were triggered by the behavior of his teachers and school staff. It is unacceptable that our children with disabilities are suffering in an environment where they are supposed to be safe, protected, cared about, taught and nurtured. Our system is severely broken. The State and/or School Boards are not investing in the future of our children with disabilities. The funding is there… but it is not being allocated and spent on training staff in the appropriate and legal way to assist our children. Where/Who is this money going to???? We, the parents, are frustrated. We are aware of the abuse happening to our children. We intend to be a huge presence, we are not going away and we will not stop raising awareness until the systemic problems in our PED and ultimately the classrooms are fixed. Thank you Bonnie, for all that you do to bring these issues to the forefront!

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