Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

June 12, 2012
Schools need less restrictive parental observation policy

School’s been out a couple of weeks, but school policy is still front and center for the Tooele County School Board and a committee of parents and teachers. According to a Transcript-Bulletin article (“Board asks committee to rethink policy on observing classes,” June 7), the school board is considering a policy that restricts when and how often a parent can observe their child’s class.

The article quotes Hal Strain, the district’s special education director, saying the proposal came about because some parents asked for a policy and he discovered there wasn’t anything in writing. As proposed, a parent would need to give written notice three days before the visit and be limited to a maximum of four hourly visits per year.

I’ve never felt a need to observe my children’s classes outside of volunteering, but my first reaction was one of surprise. I’d always assumed if I wanted to observe, and so long as I sit quietly in the back of the classroom, I would always be welcome to do so. Although I don’t have kids with special needs, I can empathize with those that do and understand their objections.

A mom whose child has special needs told me that a more candid, drop-in approach would give a parent a more accurate picture their kids aren’t capable of conveying on their own. Also, why the limit of four times in the school year? If a parent visits a classroom once, wouldn’t it be useful for them to visit other times fairly soon after, to make sure progress is being made?

Also, do the schools really have a right to control when parents check in on their kids? Shouldn’t teachers have an open-door policy?

To educate myself better on this proposal, I talked to a teacher who’s a proponent of the policy. The person cited potential distraction and safety risks for the students.

I can see their point. My children’s teachers usually ask parents to communicate concerns by email or by appointment, instead of just stopping in the classroom unannounced. Maybe one visit isn’t too disruptive, but multiply that by even a fraction of the class, and you have the potential of keeping teachers from teaching. Isn’t that what we as taxpayers are paying them to do?

In addition, having parents stop in and out at will poses a safety issue. Currently, schools require volunteers to be fingerprinted before they can be in a classroom. Having an unvetted parent would be a burden on the administration as they would need to have a personal escort at all times. Closed-circuit TV located at the front office was suggested but voted down, understandably. It’s not only cost-prohibitive but smacks of Big Brother.

Here’s something parents can do that could potentially be more effective than observing: volunteering regularly. The benefits are twofold. First, teachers are more open to a dialogue since they know a parent. Second, over time, a parent gets a fairly accurate picture, even with this advance notice.

I understand why parents — especially of special needs students — won’t tolerate a three-day wait and a four hour-visit cap. Still, parent rights need to be balanced with classroom safety and freedom from distractions. The school board should relax these restrictions and spell out proper observation etiquette so visits can go smoothly for everyone.

Jewel Punzalan Allen is a long-time journalist who lives in Grantsville. She blogs at

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