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BoE meeting draws both sides on policy

Parents: ‘We have no voice’

POSTED: August 15, 2012 6:39 p.m.
Danielle Hipps/

Waldo Pafford Elementary School art teacher Carol Hough, left, speaks in support of the policy Tuesday and Lewis Frasier Middle School parent Michele Freeney-Washington speaks against it.

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Dozens packed the Liberty County Board of Education office Tuesday to show support or opposition to the controversial visitor policy that restricts parents to one pre-arranged 20-minute visit per semester — but parents said they were frustrated that only two people got to speak on the issue.

“I feel like we have no voice at all, and they feel like they don’t mind us doing fundraisers and this and that for the schools — why would you take the parents out of the schools?” mother Rhonda Febus said. “If you’ve got a problem with our kids and you don’t want us in the school, then you know what, you take care of it.”

Febus and about five other acquaintances said they plan to stop participating in their children’s fundraisers until they feel that parents receive the same support the board asks from them.

Her friend Sherry Halliday said she planned to bring uniform concerns before the board but was miffed that so few people were able to speak.

The pre-existing policy that governs the audience participation portion of meetings states that only the first five people registered to speak may do so, and if more than three people sign up to discuss the same topic, only two will address the board.

“It’s not a forum, tonight is our board meeting, and we can choose to allow public input or not, but it’s in our best interest to allow public input,” board chairwoman Lily Baker said.

“Parents are concerned about their children, they have their children’s best interest at heart, so I expected this today,” Baker added. “We’re going to talk about this as a staff, we’ll make some adjustments if we can, but we do have the children’s safety at heart.”

During the meeting, Lewis Frasier Middle School parent Michele Freeney-Washington spoke against the policy and Waldo Pafford Elementary School art teacher Carol Hough spoke in support of it.

“I believe this policy is limiting parents’ active roles in children’s lives … this is tying our hands in terms of being able to be proactive,” Freeney-Washington said, directing her comments to the board.

She said she has taken extra measures to keep her son on track, and they come to observe their son in the classroom environment to work cohesively with teachers to succeed. When she made that point, audience members murmured things like, “That’s right.”

Limiting the visits to 20 minutes also inhibits a parent’s ability to see the class at an opportune time, especially in higher grades where students change classes, she added.

“One of the things I told parents as a juvenile probation officer is, ‘Get active with your kids; find out what’s going on; sit in the classroom,’” she said before citing the 2010 Georgia department of Education Parent Engagement Policy, which encourages schools to adopt open-door policies.

In contrast, Hough addressed the audience and said she applauds the board for being proactive.  

“Things have happened in our schools that you may not be aware of; there is not a teacher or administrator in this school system that would not lay down their life for your child. …

“I applaud any parent who wants to come in and be part of the school; We want you there,” she said. “But we also want you accountable for the same things that we are accountable, legally, physically and mentally when you are in our classrooms. There are other students, there are issues of confidentiality that we — by law — have to go by.”

The policy does not keep interested parents out of their children’s classrooms, she added, and encouraged parents to bring concerns to administrators.

Kristina Barnard, the Joseph Martin Elementary School mother who started a petition to alter the policy, was disappointed that she did not get to speak or present more than 500 signatures to the board.

Barnard also said she refuses to support fundraisers until she feels supported and vowed to come back next month if the policy has not been addressed.

“I’m not asking for them to get rid of the policy; I’m just asking for them to make changes to where it’s keeping the bad people out and letting the good people in,” she said.

Barnard and friend Casi Thrower said they’ve talked about the schools selling name-badges for parents as a fundraiser, offering color-coded passes that indicate which part of campus parents are authorized to visit or even holding visitors’ ID cards while they are on campus.

“This policy does not prevent the crazed parents from coming in — if you want to use the recent example of the neuroscience guy who shot up the movie theater, he’s a freaking genius — he could be a volunteer at our school if he really wanted to …,” Thrower said. “If they really want to come in, they’re going to do it either way.”

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