Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mom's Mad that School Failed to Enforce Her Punishment

School folks get upset when parents fail to reinforce school decisions affecting the well-being of a child. Make sure they do their homework. Sign this reading log. Consider restricting your child's privileges. But what happens when parents expect the same thing in return?

To what extent are (or should) schools be prepared to enforce a mother's discipline of her son?

This from Eve Samples at WPTV:

HOBE SOUND, FL -- The day started out like most for Laura Cancio and her family. She readied her children for school, repeatedly reminding her fourth-grade son to assemble his lunch. The food was laid out. All he had to do was put it in his bag.

But, anxious to play video games during the last few minutes before the family hit the road, the boy forgot.

Cancio realized her son’s mistake only after she dropped him off at Sea Wind Elementary in Hobe Sound.

Hoping to teach him a lesson about responsibility, she decided to let him go without food until he got home at 2:30 p.m. He had eaten a large breakfast of cereal, fruit and juice. It didn’t seem like a big deal.

She sent an e-mail to her son’s teacher:
“Everett forgot to pack his lunch even after several prompts to do so. Please do not provide him with any food. Thank you.”

She got a polite reply, logged off the computer and thought that was that.

But Everett’s teacher forwarded the message to Principal Lawrence Green, who had a different take.

Green responded in an e-mail:
“Mrs. Cancio, although I understand that Everett needs to be more responsible and you would like to teach him this skill, we cannot deny any child a lunch. This would be against the law. We can get him a school lunch and you can reimburse us at a later date.”

When Everett got home, he told his mother the cafeteria gave him a cheese sandwich. He also said a school official told him that what his mom proposed to do was illegal.

Cancio felt undermined.

To her, it boiled down to this question:
“Do I not have the right to make these physical decisions for my child?”

Her encounter illustrates the delicate balance between parental rights and school responsibility. When our children spend so much of their day at school, how far should the school go to obey a parent’s wishes?

Despite Green’s e-mail to Cancio, there is no law or Martin County School District policy that dictates whether a school should feed a child in this situation. Green later backed off the claim that not feeding Everett would be illegal.

“It boils down to the administrator, the principal, doing what he thinks is in the best interest of the student,” district spokeswoman Cathy Brennan said.

Green told me he thought he was doing what was best for Everett on that day in December.

“It was my feeling that we needed to feed the child. Research has shown that a child that is nourished is going to perform better,” he said.

Cancio declined to pay for the lunch because she did not request it, so the school covered the cost. Green has never had a parent complain about giving a student a free lunch. In fact, he’s received thank you notes for such gestures in the past.

But it still upsets Cancio. Green defied her, as she sees it.

Nobody has ever died from missing one meal, she said. Plus, her son is a picky eater who has been known to throw his lunch out. She thought not having lunch was a natural consequence for forgetting it that morning....


Anonymous said...

Perhaps, instead of asking the school to deny her son lunch, the mother should have taken away the boy's video game privileges. I can't imagine *any* school would enforce that punishment *for* the parent.

Anonymous said...

“Do I not have the right to make these physical decisions for my child?”

This question has been on my mind because of wellness issues. How can parents have their children "opt-out" of teachers/PTA giving food as a reward and in-school marketing for fast food? I've tried multiple approaches but it's still happening despite my best efforts.

If it's possible for parents to have their children opt out of watching President Obama tell them to work hard in school, surely we can opt-out of practices that the major health organizations tell us to avoid.

Interested in hearing your thoughts on these issues.

Richard Day said...

Certainly those things that can be controlled in one place ought not bleed over into the other. But that's not always possible.

Until all parents agree on how their children are to be reared schools will always be "wrong" from one perspective or another.

I have been in schools with abundant parental support and schools that had very little. That experience taught me that it is in the children's best interest for schools and parents to cooperate wherever possbile. It helps in many ways. Not the least of which is that we tend not to drive parents away from the public schools. Much better is a responsive environment where parents are partners in their children's education - but not coddled. Sometimes the answer is NO.

In the particular case cited above, I would have to focus on what is best for the children and try to work out a solution. I can see a teacher believing that food is a helpful motivator for some students. However, science suggests that is not the case - at least not long-term.

I just finished reading Daniel Pink's book "Drive" yesterday. It's about the science of motivation in business and educational settings. He argues that external motivators are effective in the short run, but actually counter-productive in the long run. It tends to produce kids who won't do anythiing in the absence of a reward.

When the incentives are focused on short-term maximization of profits, like the current Toyota case, it leads to short-term thinking. So the corporation celebrated when they avoided a mandatory recall, saving the company millions, and apparently took shortcuts on safety. The result is 43 deaths and one of Kentucky's most important companies in hot water. On top of everything else, that going to cost the state.

Much better are intrinsic rewards, Pink argues.

I guess my advice would be to arm yourself with this data and head off to the school council - or if you are sufficiently frustrated already - the board of education and make a public case out of it. It may be a fight worth having; one that helps other children in the process.

And whether it's Bush or Obama, it is unAmerican in my opinon, to censor our nation's leader.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response and advice. I'll add "Drive" to my library list.

Richard Day said...

You bet. Good luck.