Two weeks ago nine members of the girls basketball team of St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, Queens, were suspended for the duration of the season because they did not appear for their scheduled game against a rival high school the prior day. Why didn’t they show up?
They stayed home on orders of their parents who were protesting the school’s failure to act on their petition to fire the head coach from her position. The parents had counted on the flexing of their collective muscle to persuade the school’s administration to knuckle under.
They didn’t. And what happened then? The parents apologized “to all the staff” of the school for their actions which they described as “irresponsible and thoughtless.” They acknowledged that their behavior “not only failed, but embarrassed the school, Mrs. — (the coach’s name, here omitted as a courtesy) and the team and deeply regret doing so… It was wrong of us.”
The school administration did not gloat, but instead accepted the apology graciously. However, they have not retracted their disciplinary action. They chose not to sell out principle.
What is the lesson of this for educators in our public schools?
It is not that parents should not be heard or get their way when disputing official policies of the school authorities. After all, parents and teachers are the closest of allies in the pursuit of quality education.
That’s never been more true than now. In countless campaigns, whether related to CFE, school governance reforms, equitable funding, and so many others, we have stood proudly side by side and hand in hand.
But parents are not always right in what they insist upon, whether individually or collectively. Neither are educators or politicians or administrators. The important thing is that issues are resolved on their merits, not by bullying or pressure politics.
It is a paradox that the DOE, which has so notoriously failed to engage parents and to treat them respectfully, is obsessed with public relations spin to create the illusion that exactly the opposite is the case.
In the great majority of schools, what happened at St. Francis Prep could never have occurred. On one hand, a viable school leadership team and an effective parent coordinator would help douse the fire before it got out of control.
But on the other hand, in some schools, a parent (who is, after all, viewed as a consumer and even called a “customer”) is always right, and school bosses will humor and kowtow to them for fear that these parents might otherwise make waves by notifying the DOE. More than almost anything else, principals fear being on the DOE’s radar screen for any negative allegation, regardless of its credibility and veracity.
Regardless of our titles and connections, let’s all support the idea that whenever there is a controversy at school, no matter how raw and who is involved, justice should prevail. And if hell and high water come, they will retreat if we refuse to be impressed by them.