Last year, I wrote about my son’s school’s new asinine policy to require all volunteers to be fingerprinted and get a background check by both local and federal authorities, at the volunteer’s expense, in money, convenience, and time. Joanne Jacobs, an education writer and blogger, as well as a few other blogs, linked to the story. As a result, I got a call from Monique Dollone of the Coalition for Accountability in Education. She told me her personal story about what happened when she called out the Ventura Unified School District about an illegal use of funds. She has more courage and determination than I do, but the upshot was that the politicians in the California State educational system have a lot more power and money than any one of us do, and if you piss them off enough for them to notice you, they will hurt you; and (as I had already suspected), the local media doesn’t and won’t care. Dollone reacted by becoming a community organizer, focused on helping parents like me; I, on the other hand, realized why many Californians choose private school, even if they have a good public school.
However, since I was still early in my protest, she had great advice for what I could do, in the hopes that my district might be a bit more compassionate. The first step was to take the issue to the school site council. I had had no idea what that was, but all public schools have it: it’s a group comprised of administration, teachers, and parents to discuss campus policies. I presented a concise report on why the fingerprinting policy was wrong. The principal said she’d take my report to the district, and also that she was the one person expected to enforce the policy. I also made a comment on the policy at the San Jose Unified School District meeting, but it was little more than a reiteration of the fact that state law had nothing to do with the policy, and that it would destroy the volunteering culture at my son’s school.
So what did they do? They gave us a discount! Parents who want be school volunteers still have to waive their constitutional rights, drive downtown at an inconvenient bureaucrat-scheduled time, and put their fingerprints on file with the FBI, but now it’s only $32, not $57!
I had no interest in taking the matter any further. A good lawyer might have a chance at overturning the policy, but it’s my son, not the school I care about, and if I had money for a lawyer, I could just as well spend it on a good private school instead. I told the principal she’d be losing me and my husband as volunteers, which is really the only power I had. From talking to parents at my neighborhood school, and from other parents, it also seems our principal is the only one enforcing the fingerprinting policy–other district schools are grateful and eager for all the volunteers they can get, since they only have a few anyway.
This school year has been miserable. I don’t know what’s going on in Neil’s classroom, because I’m not there every week, as I used to be in his classes, and the teacher snippily dismisses my concerns. I’ve actually had to buy materials to teach him math at his level myself. Peter helped coach Neil’s robotics team until the principal insisted all coaches be fingerprinted, whereupon Peter bailed. I no longer go to HIPS meetings, I don’t even volunteer for events where fingerprinting is not required, and when asked to contribute financially or materially for a fund-raising drive, I give far less than I once used to.
Some parents acquiesced to the policy: to add to what I consider a humiliation, they now also have to wear picture ID badges whenever they volunteer on campus. From where I stand, I can’t really tell if there has been a drop-off in volunteering, but a parent told my husband the difference is precipitous. The Art Vistas (parent volunteer led art education) program found no volunteers for the school’s kindergarten and first grade classes, we have no GATE program parent representative, and positions for next year’s HIPS are still open, whereas multiple people used to be vying for the slots in other years.
We loved the school’s culture and focus when we placed Neil there in kindergarten, but it’s amazing how quickly a good thing like that can be destroyed. Understandably, I’m unhappy, but short of taking Neil out of the school (which I may yet do), there’s little more I’m willing to do.
Update 5-17-10: In the comments, there seem to be several people who have questions about Monique Dollone (possibly because she seems to running for public office). I have no information beyond the brief call she gave me when I first published my objections to San Jose Unified’s fingerprinting policy. Since then, I have pulled both my children out of San Jose Unified; they are now privately educated.