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Letter to the Editor: To a School Principal

Parent decries new rules for students about gifts for teachers.

When I chose to move to Springfield and raise my children here, one of my major deciding factors was the quality of its public school system. Over the last few years I have not been disappointed with my choice. In fact, ever since my eldest daughter began attending Walton School, I have had nothing but praise and admiration for our schools and the district. However, over the past few years many parents, including myself, have noticed an unhealthy shift from moderation, towards extreme political correctness and inflexibility by the leaders in our schools. 

First, when the Superintendent and/or Principals determined that there should be no sweets in our schools, I, like many others, felt it was bit excessive, yet I refrained from commenting. But, I can no longer remain silent. Completely discarding sweets from the school environment does not allow our children to make active decisions in choosing a healthy lifestyle over non-healthy one. Rather, it discourages them to make choices. We, as a community, should be teaching our children that there are choices to be made in life. By “hiding” a lesser choice, as our school district mandates, we demonstrate to our children that we prefer to conceal the choices offered in our world and pretend the lesser choice does not even exist. How is this teaching?

If this draconian policy wasn’t enough, I was further dismayed when I learned the policy forbade the celebration of a "treat" even on a child’s birthday. “Birthday boys and girls will be given a pencil?” Really?? Yes, I recognize there is an obesity epidemic; however, children do not become obese because they have a cupcake or two a month at a festivity. It’s about choices and moderation. I do not stand alone when I state this policy is excessive as many parents in the district agree. Why is it that many other school districts have been able to formulate much more reasonable policies regarding nutrition? For example, in neighboring Mountainside, parents of children celebrating birthdays in any given month come to the school on one mutually agreeable day. The parents may bring a snack in consisting of a combination of healthy and non-healthy treats. This type of "celebration" once a month clearly does not cause obesity.

This is a very healthy way to model eating habits. Any nutritionist will agree that healthy eating should occur 90% of the time with a treat 10% of the time. Complete deprivation of treats does not, and will not, eliminate obesity and does not exemplify a healthy lifestyle. In fact, studies have shown that complete deprivation of any one item causes increased obsession, not disinterest. Seriously, does the occasional cupcake make our children obese? Has the administration gone too far? Perhaps district personnel need to be reminded that sweets do exist in our world. 

When Halloween festivities at school were brought to an end, I refrained again, this despite the extreme disappointment of many in our community. Other school districts have made very reasonable decisions to have children enjoy a Halloween activity in the last hour or so of the school day. Children should be permitted to bring their costumes to school and enjoy this event with their classmates. I suspect that many would agree the opportunity for social interaction on Halloween amongst peers is not harmful and actually can be a constructive social experience. Perhaps our Board needs to be reminded that “real life” includes occasional celebrations do (and gasp! with sweets too!). I am certain most in our community enjoys a holiday party, or gathering with family, friends and co-workers. Why must we deny our children of the same? Has the administration gone too far?

Yet, it does not end there. Now there is another example that the administration has exceeded its boundaries. I learned recently of the newest policy which forbids parents to provide a collective gift to the teacher at holiday time. I ask, what is the reasoning behind this policy? Is it that it leads to favoritism? Isn't this the reason why a "collective" gift is presented to the teacher with no indication of who contributed in the first place? Letters and drawings by the students as tokens of appreciation are being encouraged. Teachers may accept individual gifts from students and their families?? Really?? This policy has a greater propensity towards favoritism than a collective gift! To add to the ridiculousness, this policy is not district wide. 

The job educating our children is hard enough, but their responsibilities do not end there. Our children deserve a community which fosters a desire to learn, and encourages appropriate social behavior and experiences. 

Considering their responsibilities, teachers are not adequately compensated. Many teachers take money from their own pocket to provide a certain type of environment for their students. It’s about time the administration focuses on its own responsibilities rather than attempting to dominate our community with their unreasonable positions. 

My views are echoed by many of the educated adults in our community. I ask again, has the administration gone too far? The answer is a resounding “yes.” This state of affairs is disheartening, and I maintain that I am not proud of our school district. Changes need to be made.

Sincerely, 
a concerned parent

Addendum: 

The following is the addendum to the letter, in response to my telephone conversation with the above mentioned principal: 

At issue is the recent policy regarding teachers’ holiday gifts at some Springfield schools. It seems the principal feels the “idea” of a “collective gift” from the students from the students “just feels wrong,” and therefore, supports this policy. As one might imagine, “just feels wrong” is an unacceptable answer. When pressed for reasons for his newest mandate, the principal simply could not come up with any valid ones, instead, suggesting that the children would be subject to various safety concerns transporting such money back and forth in their backpacks.

This is nonsensical as “kid mail” via backpacks has been around ever since I was a little girl! Further, monies for PTA fundraising activities, lunch, milk, school pictures, and class trips are transported via backpacks, effectively negating this view. Besides, if we truly have to fear for our children because they are carrying cash in their backpacks, then I suggest we have even greater problems in our schools that need to be addressed immediately.

In any event, I then proposed that the class parent could set up a Paypal account or mail payment directly to the class parent to negate his concern. However, he said children may be feel uncomfortable if their families can't contribute.

Honestly, I have a very difficult time with this. How would a child know how much a parent has given? Participation would be voluntary with a suggested, but not required, donation amount. Any family could give more, less, or nothing at all. Further, there would be no indication to the teacher who has contributed and who has not and how much.   

The Principal had an alternate suggestion of individual teacher gifts, but doesn’t this lend itself more to the alienation from those who cannot provide a gift at all? The children will notice if a child comes to school without a package in hand on the last day of class before winter break when everyone else brings one in. They will make comparisons, whose gift is larger and whose is smaller, even if the gifts remain wrapped in their presence.

In any event, I take extreme issue and offense to the Superintendent and principal of the school dictating a gift policy to the parents which makes no sense. If I choose to collect for a gift, I shall do just that. This incidentally, brings me to my next point, which is that I am extremely dismayed by the direction our administration has taken with its most recent mandates of “absolutely, no sweets” and “no Halloween celebrations.” These policies are not in agreement with the feelings of the majority of parents, and several educators, in our town.

Tell me, when will this administration listen to those in the community it serves? What will it take for you to reconsider? If I can demonstrate to you and the board support from the majority of the community, would the policies change? I can do so with a simple online survey to all parents. I implore the district to reconsider these mandates and work with parents to come up with more palatable solutions.

Mr. Hanky December 19, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Agreed!
Mr. Hanky December 19, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Not to be confused with "Springfield Father"....... I see, come up with a similar name and dispute the points made by a concerned parent............."God Bless us.....Everyone".
Mr. Hanky December 19, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Blah, blah, blah........."The Charlie Brown's teacher's voice comes to mind....womp, womp, womp, womp, womp, womp".....
Springfield Father December 20, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Mr. “Stop Complaining So Much,” you state “I have my opinions, and it doesn't matter to me what your opinions are.” Really? Are you sure?? If our opinions don’t matter to you, then why almost 15 replies in this forum? Clearly you care more about our opinions than you are willing to admit. You claim to be positive, yet, you attempt to shut parents down in almost every response you post. Now you seem to prefer a debate over the definition of what is an opinion vs. a compliant, instead of the original issue, which is, the unwillingness of the current administrators to listen to, and work with, parents. The only positive point you have made is that you think the district is doing a good job of education our children. Granted, most would agree with that statement, however, that is not our issue. It is true, a better forum for this, and other many other concerns, may be at the BOE meetings, or perhaps, the Supervisors office itself. However, at the last board meeting, where the focal point was school safety, many parents left frustrated. When the floor was finally opened to parents, every single suggestion they offered was met with a resounding “No.” We need to challenge our leaders to explain their positions. The argument that “it’s already a rule, so let’s move on” is not acceptable. The administration must work with residents to create reasonable policies and solutions and policies. How can that happen if they “don’t listen?”
Right to choice goes both ways December 20, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I was pretty glad when sweets and other "treats" were banned from school. If I want my kids to eat junk, I'll give it to them myself. I never appreciated having my right to feed my kids appropriate foods run roughshod over, when some "well intentioned" parent sends in a pile of sugary crap that gets handed over to my kids without my knowledge or permission. I even tried asking the teachers if they could COMPROMISE by letting me know a day beforehand about the edible garbage, so that I could have a chance to find a healthier alternative to be provided to my child. You want to send in your crappy cupcakes to the class? Fine, just give me a chance to find a low-sugar/non-chemical/non-toxic alternative!

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