*I originally wrote this as an OpEd piece for the AJC. Not sure if they decided to publish it because I have not heard anything- #KanyeShrug Since @Havalah on Twitter asked me about School Choice (after reading my rant about school registration and Open House being on the same day, same time, etc., I decided to just use the OpEd piece as a blog.)
The Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 251 in 2009, allowing public school students to attend any school within the local board ‘…under certain conditions.’ According to the Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) web site, students cannot transfer for any of the following reasons: (1) Grievances arising from parent-school conflicts; (2) Peer group associations; (3) Discipline and/or attendance problems; or (4) General dissatisfaction with a particular school. Essentially, if a parent and a school cannot agree on decisions in the best interest of the child, or said child has issues with bullies or gangs, then s/he must remain at the assigned school. The only other options are a private school, one of the few charter schools in the largest school district, or home schooling. This school ‘choice’ option is an important issue for consideration, as Georgia students return to school in a few weeks.
For the past 2.5 years, I have home schooled my oldest who is now 15. He is preparing to (reluctantly) enter South Gwinnett High School as a sophomore this year. I will admit that I am very leery, as I am aware of some of the events that have happened at South, as well as other high schools in the metro area. By no means am I naïve, but at the same time I do not subscribe to the ‘Boys will be boys’ mantra because, well, all kids should have the expectation of being safe while on school grounds. After all, we expect our kids to attend school every day and perform well on state-mandated tests. The least we could do is ensure their safety, right? Perhaps I am the only parent who believes that but I am sure that I can find some kids who would agree.
Our decision to home school was not motivated by religious beliefs or my child’s intellectual ability. In fact, he is very bright and articulate, both characteristics that apparently warrant bullying these days. But eventually the bullying and apathetic attitude of the school became too much, for both of us. He hated going to school; I tired of hearing the stories of the same kids taunting him, without consequences. The problems began early on during the 7th grade, but I thought for sure that my visit to the school would change things. When I met with one of the Assistant Principals, he said ‘When I saw the referral come across my desk, I didn’t recognize his name.’ I was literally dumbfounded. What kind of conversation-starter was that? Again, I am not claiming that my son is angel but he does not go around looking for trouble. My son ended up having several run-ins with the same kid; one incident involved the bully cursing at him in front of the teacher. No disciplinary action was taken; that as unacceptable. These two were in some of the same classes for the first semester and the taunts continued.
Just a few weeks away from the new school year and I cannot help but wonder: ‘Where is the choice in School Choice?’ After you wade through the restrictions, consider any personal or professional obstacles that may hinder driving 30 minutes each way, everyday, you have to admit that Georgia’s law looks pretty in theory but is actually worthless in reality. Aside from purchasing homes in exclusive communities or paying tuition at private schools, what other options do parents have to ensure a quality education in a relatively secure learning environment? This district obviously does not believe in creating (accessible) charters and magnet schools, so what’s left for the rest of us?