SUMMIT — Parents and kids may have to double check to make sure lunches, homework, sports equipment and special projects are in hand before leaving for school now that there is a policy on unscheduled visits.
In July when schools Superintendent Nathan Parker told parents in a letter that at the start of the new school year they would no longer be able to stop in at the schools unannounced, it drew concern from the community. In fact, a petition was started to end the zero tolerance policy immediately.
Parker notified parents in July by sending a letter that clearly echoed his and the board of education’s sentiments on the alarming number of drop-in visits parents make each day, pointing out this new policy change was for the safety of their children. The superintendent backed this claim by mentioning there were close to 2,000 visits alone each week at the high school last school year.
Parker explained that he had to limit the number of parents and other guests who visit district schools in order to keep a handle on who is actually roaming the halls. Maintaining the new policy was not meant to ban parents or reduce interaction with them, but rather make things more systematic and safe for students.
Parker said the new policy came about following discussions with parents and administrators who were looking at security weaknesses after 20 children were killed in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012. Many schools, he said, were looking into tighter security measures, including hiring police officers, installing cameras and opting for any other measures that would ensure the safety of all students during the day.
As for parents who fear their child might go without lunch, that issue was addressed by Parker who said these students will not starve by any means. Each will be offered a school lunch, but Parker is hoping the new policy will teach youngsters to be more responsible in the future.
“By forgetting lunch, homework, or athletic gear once and not having it brought to them, students will learn to be accountable,” Parker said in his letter to parents.
Prior to school starting, parents resisting the new policy were hoping the city council might intervene on their behalf, but they were wrong. Although one council member did feel the policy was restrictive, the remaining council members were of the opinion that this was a school matter, not something the city council should be addressing.
Parents against the measure became so irate about being locked out of the schools that a petition popped up online urging Parker to end the zero tolerance policy.
Although parents that put the petition online agreed that unannounced visits should be limited, they felt parents of younger and special needs children should have access to the schools. While admitting that it was important to cut down the number of outsider visits to the schools, they pointed out that “parents are not outsiders.”
“We are requesting that they end this zero tolerance policy and institute a less intrusive pilot program where parent-school access is monitored closely,” the petition read.
The parents also requested access to the data Parker referenced when he said 400 parents signed in at the high school on one particular day. Those supporting the petition said parents and staff indicated this number is out of proportion for most school days and they want to see proof that these numbers are factual.
Although the issue was brought up at a city public meeting, Summit elected officials said the matter was a school issue and therefore in the hands of the superintendent and school board.