EAST GREENWICH—The school committee was met with resistance from union representatives on Tuesday night with regard to proposed policies that would enable parents to enter the classroom to make formal observations of their child in the learning environment. The complaints about the proposed policy center on the issues of vetting parents and guardians, the lack of manpower required to successfully implement such a policy and a lack of communication between policy makers and educators.
One of the proposed policies would allow parents and guardians to formally observe their child in the classroom by sitting in on a class, provided they sign a confidentiality agreement. Importantly, the observer would not need to pass a background check as they would, in theory, always be accompanied by a staff member, and would only be able to make such an observation twice in any given academic year. Nevertheless, questions remain of what would happen should the observer’s chaperone have to leave the room, how to adequately ensure the observer is honest about their intentions and how such access would inevitably interfere with educators’ ability to do their jobs.
Committee vice chair Lori McEwen spoke to the need for further revisions in considering the policy.
“In policy committee, we did discuss the origin of this, and while it comes from a good and noble place of parents who wanted to understand what is happening in their child’s life, we also recognize that this could be abused and are very cognizant of that,” McEwen said. “I’m still not comfortable with it. I’m thinking worst case scenario, what if a principal is called away or there is a fire or whatever, and now we have somebody there and now we have liability.”
Though the proposed policy on classroom observation incorporates language that would enable a principal to terminate an observation at any time, the lack of background checks and the lack of necessary manpower to oversee requests in nearly any capacity means that the borders of the classroom would be opened to virtually any parent or guardian who believes they should be privy to the daily life the classroom. This creates other problems, such as giving access to guardians who may actually desire to observe children who are not their own, or even teachers, rather than the learning process of their own child.
It is a fear that was brought to the fore by East Greenwich High science teacher and National Education Association (NEA) member, James Mire.
“I understand your target is a very small subset of the population, but in creating this policy you are addressing everybody,” Mire told the committee. “But somebody’s motive in an observation can be so secretive, so clandestine, and you guys know it.”
“I am thinking from a worst-case scenario. I have to,” Mire added. “You cannot predict someone’s motive when they walk into a school to watch their student, when we know we have no-contact orders and other incidents on campus, and the only way we are made aware of these is because something else happens throughout the course of the day.”
Mire further expressed discontent with the process by which the policy was apparently vetted, arguing that the policy committee’s meeting time of 9 a.m. excluded educators who are in the classroom at that time. The idea was rebuffed by committee member Anne Musella and Matt Plain.
“I don’t want to bulldoze, I want this to be a vetted process,” said Musella. “But I don’t want any more unnecessary delay.”
“Part of the reason I was willing to have a first read tonight was to hear concern,” Plain said. “It helps to generate interest from the community when you have a first read.”
The proposed policy has been public for some weeks now but because most people cannot attend the meetings there has not been a meaningful discussion on the potential costs, dangers and effects of the policy. As such, the NEA has objected to its implementation.
The policy will likely receive another read at the next meeting of the school committee.