Principals at many schools, including magnets like Masterman and neighborhood schools like Houston, are practically begging parents to volunteer to help staff schools. While parent volunteers certainly have a place in schools, and have often provided valuable auxiliary help to principals and teachers, these requests are different: this year principals want parents to provide basic, needed services to schools that should be provided by the district. There are several problems with this kind of "help":
- Principals are asking parents to help with services that involve students' confidentiality. Even if you are simply answering the phone in a school office (and many principals have asked for parents to do this), you may be privy to confidential information. DHS might call to check on a students or leave a message for a teacher, a doctor's office might call to verify an absence, or a lawyer's office might call to relay changed custody arrangements. NONE of this is the business of anyone who is not official school staff. Frankly, any principal who is allowing this is a fool because they are opening themselves up for complaints from parents whose confidential info finds its way in to the wrong hands. Parents manning late desks or helping with high school or college applications for students present the same problem.
- Parents or community volunteers who are "helping" with essential school tasks are taking away a paying job from someone who probably needs it. This hurts the economy long-term, and it hurts the school district long-term. If we make it seem doable to make due without essential personnel, they will never be replaced. It is not sustainable because eventually parents will get tired of or need to stop volunteering, and then we will be right back where we started from--with schools chronically underfunded.
- This also sets up an inequitable system within schools. The parents who have the economic and social capital to volunteer most often will be a known presence in schools and will have more opportunities to gain the principal's or teachers' ears. This gives the volunteers' child or children an advantage or the kids whose parents' work schedule or family obligations to not allow them to volunteer.
- The volunteers, no matter how well-intentioned or skilled in their own job areas, are not educational professionals (usually) and cannot truly replace the school staff whose role they are trying to fill. Parents or community members volunteering in school libraries are not an adequate replacement for certified School Librarians/Media Specialists. They probably do not know how to level books for students, or teach internet safety, or address the varying reliability of internet sources for research. Volunteers in a library are poor replacement for true professionals who can really help students. Even in a recess yard or playground, parents cannot adequately replace Noon-time Aides who have worked in a school community for years and understand the varying relationships that come in to play in such spaces.
"I want my child's school to have the resources it needs! I will NOT replace a person who was laid off! You--as a principal--need to communicate the legitimate needs of your school to your superiors at the School District! Please stop begging for free help from parents, and truly advocate for your students!"
Here's what parents and community members can do in these awful circumstances:
- Advocate with both the city and state for Full Fair Funding for ALL schools in Pennsylvania. Find a list of city and state politicians here.
- Join Parent and Community advocacy organizations that advocate for full fair funding: Parents United for Public Education, PCAPS, ActionUnited, Fight For Philly, POWER, and others.