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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

FOI At Work...

An excellent column on the secrecy plaguing schools, and parents fighting back...

For a long time, Dawn Mosisa had trouble forgiving herself for the way she shrugged off her daughter's story about the teacher who hit one of her second grade classmates in the spring of 2003. Her daughter said the man ordered the class to count to 10 in French while he hit the boy 10 times with a ruler.

The girl was not in the habit of making up such stories, the mother said, but like most parents, Mosisa did not want to think that any educator would be so cruel, so she chose not to believe it. When the teacher left the school the next year, Mosisa grew more concerned. But she said she could not get anyone at Maryvale Elementary School in Rockville to explain to her or her child exactly what had occurred and how they should respond.

Abuse of a student at school is a parent's nightmare. Not only do such incidents harm the victims and their parents, but they also trouble the children who may have witnessed the event and their parents. Such cases usually remain undisclosed because parents do not want their children embarrassed or disturbed by public knowledge of what happened. But Mosisa, 44, a student financial services official for a public university, has given an unusually detailed account that sheds light on a rarely examined side of public education.

The instinct of school administrators to keep parents ignorant of allegedly unpleasant or controversial behavior by teachers is backed by state regulations, union rules and fear of lawsuits. The administrators who refuse to answer parental questions say there is nothing they can do. But the anger felt by parents like Mosisa is often not eased by the recognition that the administrators would like to tell them more, but are not allowed to.

Exactly what Mosisa's daughter witnessed at Maryvale Elementary remains unclear because the school's and the teacher's versions of events are unavailable. That is precisely why parents at Maryvale, and at other schools that suffer such episodes, are so upset with the way the system ignores their pleas for information. There appear to be no significant efforts to rewrite the regulations to allow them to know what happened to their children. Many parents say they think such efforts would be doomed by prevailing legal practices, so they instead try to forget about what happened and move on.

More here.

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