Editor's note: Liberty County School System Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley on Friday, Aug. 17, issued the following statement in response to parents' complaints about the new visitor policy. Her response appears unedited in its entirety below.
As the Deputy Superintendent for the Liberty County Board of Education, I feel the need to address some concerns and confusion regarding the new procedures for visitors in the schools. The first distinction we need to make is between “visitors in the schools” and “volunteers in the schools.”
Visitors are parents or legal guardians who wish to come in and visit during the school day. We do not allow unauthorized visitors into the schools. This is obviously for the safety of the students and staff. The confusion regarding the new procedures seems to be centered around the 20-minute observation during instructional time with a limit of one observation per semester. It appears that a few parents interpret the new procedure to mean that they are only allowed on the school campus once each semester. This is NOT the case. Parents and legal guardians are still allowed to have lunch with their child IF their names are on the registration card in the office. The registration cards are completed by the parent or legal guardian who actually enrolls the student in school. This practice has not changed under the new procedures. Special activities held in the school or in the classroom, such as “muffins for moms,” “donuts for dads,” grandparents’ luncheons, musical programs, etc., do not fall under this requirement as is stated in Item 4 of the Code of Conduct. The 20-minute observation during the semester refers to classroom observations. Because this is instructional time for the students, students need to have the opportunity to learn without constant interruptions. If one parent observes the child’s class once during a semester, that is 30 interruptions for a class of 30 children. If both parents observe once during the semester, this could result in a total of 60 interruptions. Imagine the number of interruptions the students would encounter if parents visited the classrooms on a weekly basis. (One parent x 18 weeks x 30 students = 540 visits.) While it is true that not every parent will visit their child’s class on a weekly basis, it is also true that every parent gets the same opportunity. It was suggested that we permit parents to visit the classrooms but limit access of parents who are disruptive or “do not need to be allowed to visit”. This may seem like a simple solution; however, parents or legal guardians have the same rights unless they have their rights removed through the judicial system OR have a stipulation placed on them that would prevent them from being on our campus. ALL parents must be given the same opportunities.
The Code of Conduct (page 19; item #3 and #4) reads as follows:
3. Only parents or legal guardians are allowed to observe in the classroom where the parent’s/guardian’s child is in attendance. Before an observation can occur, the parent/guardian must obtain 24-hour prior approval from a school administrator. Once approval is obtained, the administrator will arrange a date and time for the observation. The administrator will also arrange for a school employee to escort the parent/guardian to the classroom and remain with them throughout the observation. Classroom observations are limited to 20 minutes and may be requested only once each semester unless federal regulations require different procedures. Parents cannot bring other children into the classroom. During the classroom observation period, cell phones must remain in the “off” position and are not allowed to be used.
4. All persons visiting in the school or on the school grounds are required to report to the school office for permission to remain on campus. School activities planned for special occasions during the school day and after hours where parents and community residents are invited are not included under this requirement. All visitors must be appropriately dressed for the school setting.
Volunteers in the schools, on the other hand, may or may not be parents. These individuals are interested in volunteering their time and helping out where needed in the schools. They would assist with activities such as reading with a small group of students or preparing materials for activities (cutting out items or putting a packet of items together, etc.). It has been our practice for many years that parent volunteers do not volunteer in their own child’s classroom. Because of the continued focus on safety, we are in the process of revising our procedures for volunteers in the schools and will be releasing these revisions soon. One of the requirements under the newly revised procedures will be to obtain background checks of the individual prior to allowing that individual to serve as a volunteer. There will also be required training for the individuals who wish to volunteer in the schools. I will be happy to provide this information to the public once it is finalized.
I apologize for the confusion that this change may have caused. It was never the intent of the school system to keep parents away from their child’s education. Our focus is on keeping your children safe while they are with us at school. I remember when my family left the doors unlocked to our homes and our cars and even left the keys in the ignition overnight. I wouldn’t recommend doing that today. We all make changes in our daily lives to ensure the safety of our loved ones. We, as a school system, have to constantly make changes to practices and procedures because we must do what is needed to ensure the safety of your children and our staff.