The Outrageous School Policy That Gives Parents Way Too Much Say

Photo: Corbis
Photo: Corbis

A family member of mine works in a K-4 school in the Northeast where they recently implemented a new policy for class selection. Parents received an email from the principal stating that the staff was preparing to place students in their sections for the coming 2014/2015 school year. This line followed: “Parents are welcome to list 10 children they would like for their son or daughter to be in class with next year and two children they do not want in class with their child.”

The principal wrote that they will consider all requests equally and do their best to ensure that at least two of the 10 from the “wants to be with” list make it into the class and at least one from the “don’t want to be with” list will not show up on your kid’s class roster.

What the what?! Why is a public school giving parents asay in who their child’s classmates will be? Why are they letting parents label other kids good or bad? And what kind of message does this send to the children? I think that’s the biggest issue I have here: Letting parents step in to help create cushy circumstances for their kids — or to avoid potential obstacles. Neither of which would happen in the real world. What about teaching them to deal with the disappointment of not having their BFF in class every year? Helping them hone their friend-making abilities? Or making them realize that sometimes you have to be around people you just don’t like very much. That’s an important life lesson, right? And aren’t those just as essential as square routes and conjunctions?

I also feel for the teachers who have to slog through all these requests at the end of the year. It must be like trying to create a wedding seating chart only where every couple on the list is divorced and both are attending. My family member told me that it’s basically a clusteryouknowwhat. It also makes it hard for the parents who don’t want a policy like this but who are nevertheless part of the system. One mentioned that she didn’t have any “don’t want to be with” kids on her list but that another mom told her if she kept it blank her child would become a “buffer” kid — meaning, they were easy going and could be in a class with anyone including the “bad” kids no one else wanted to be with. (OMG!) That is just way too much thinking for me — and a lot of work! I have a first grader and I don’t think I could come up with 10 kids I’d want him to be with. Nor would I. Call me old-fashioned or naïve or free-range but I just don’t want that much input. And I don’t think others should have it either. But it’s very hard to be the non-helicopter mom in a sea of hovering choppers.

Now I’m sure there are some extenuating circumstances where a parent might really want their child separated from another child, such as if their son or daughter is truly being bullied. I understand that and fortunately my family hasn’t had to deal with the experience to date. But, if that were the case, couldn’t the parent approach the administration and take it up on their own? Wouldn’t they already have? Inviting every parent’s input just seems wrong to me. The letter our elementary school sent home about teacher selection said that if you were so compelled you could list your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses and they would try to match you with an appropriate educator, but that you should not under any circumstances request a specific teacher. It didn’t mention anything about classmates — why would it?

When I was entering 6th grade, I remember finding out that all of my friends got Mr. Powers, the young, super-cool, rare male teacher that everyone wanted. I got Mrs. Mallet, the about-to-be-retired teacher who was perfectly lovely but not exactly coveted. And you know what? I cried. I was pissed. It felt unfair, unjust, unthinkable! (Note the 12-year-old repressed angst coming out.) But I made it work. I survived. I had a great year. And I’m sure I was better for the experience and more prepared to handle life’s inevitable disappointments. What will happen to these kids when they get out into the real world and realize their friends won’t always be around? Or when they start a job and get put on a project with co-workers they can’t stand? Mommy won’t be writing a note to the boss, that’s for sure.