Reimagining Education

Back-to-school (bureaucracy)

Going back to school is a big deal.

There is all the back-to-school shopping, the last-minute doctor’s appointments, open houses, schedule pick-ups, and final summer to-do lists.

While a lot of this can be fun, it is all time consuming and for many parents, it can be hard to fit it all in around full-time jobs and other responsibilities.

The last thing a concerned parent needs to deal with is having to figure out how to navigate a maze of bureaucracy just to make sure their child is actually enrolled in the school or program they need.

But for many parents CEAM works with, that is exactly what they are faced with.

Parents navigating the end of the transfer program

One parent we know spent the summer traveling from north county to south county to meetings with school officials. Sometimes the school administrator showed up for the scheduled meeting, sometimes they did not. She was trying to work out transportation for her child but as of this afternoon she still does not know if he will continue to have a way to get to the school he feels safe in, will have to be homeschooled or will be forced to return to a district where he was abused.

Other parents have spent the summer in school board meetings and superintendents offices trying to figure out a way to keep their kids in the schools they chose during the transfer program.

The parents whose children go to Clayton schools won that battle when Clayton and Normandy came to an agreement to let the students continue on with the only classmates they have known for years.

Transfer students hoping to return to other school districts next week were not so fortunate and many of those families are still trying to figure out which school their kids will be walking through the doors of next week.

You can’t make these experiences up

In the CEAM office, we have spent the better part of the last week trying to help just one parent enroll their child in virtual education through the St. Louis Public Schools, and it has been a long journey that is still not completely resolved.

One of our staff spent several days trying to find a way to help the parent through normal channels.

She scoured the website to try to find answers or at least contact information for someone who might be able to provide them.

She was ultimately met by a forest of unanswered phones, full mailboxes, and a massive lack of missing information.

Finally, she decided to go down to the central office with the plan of not leaving until someone could figure out a way to find the answers we needed to help this parent get their student enrolled in the program he needed.

On her first trip, she learned that the district enrollment office had never heard of the MOCAP program (which has been law for a year) and was told that the virtual education guy she needed to talk to, apparently the only person in the entire district who might be able to answer the questions, was on vacation.

On her second trip, she was told he was back from vacation but in professional development for the whole week (at this point only a week before school starts).

So she left some information on the virtual education guy’s desk and left. The virtual education guy called her back almost immediately to tell her that he could not help her because he only handled the district’s own virtual education program and not MOCAP (the new statewide virtual education program should have been available to every Missouri student since last August).

He gave us the name of someone in another department who we should talk to but could not give us her number, telling us to just call the main line and ask the operator for this new person who supposedly had the answers to our questions. The operator does not pick up and their voice mail is full, so our staff member heads out the door.

On her third trip, she learned this new person was in fact the wrong person to talk to and our staff person really needed to be talking to the virtual education guy – the same one we had been trying to talk to since the beginning and who told us to talk to the new person.

Finally, he got back to us and told us MOCAP should be up and running by next week, but the virtual education guy had some questions about how MOCAP works(again, MOCAP is the state virtual education program that has been the law for a year now). We just did a blog about some the ways that districts are not living up to new virtual education law, check it out here.

How can a working parent have time for this?

Thankfully, our staff member was able to spend several days making all of these calls and trips back and forth to the central office because it is her job.

Now imagine how many other parents don’t know about CEAM and are faced with trying to navigate all of this by themselves. For every parent contacting CEAM there are likely dozens of others being denied the education they deserve under the law, simply because they do not have the time fight or they (and their school districts) don’t understand the limited protections and rights that parents have to choose a better education in Missouri.

Imagine if you had to do all of this as a single parent with your own work responsibilities, and you have to do it before you can do all the other back-to-school things because you need to know where your child is going to school before you can get supplies or attend open houses or anything else.

For many parents, it is simply impossible and so they end up stuck in a school or program that is not really meeting the needs of their children.

This is why parents need an alternative. This is why more education options can make a real difference.

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