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Philly parent: Schools need more input from families when making critical decisions | Opinion

The school year is off to a rocky start.

Masterman parents hold a press conference outside the school at 17th and Spring Garden in support of teachers in regards to asbestos and the "district's broken promises" on Monday morning, Aug. 30, 2021.
Masterman parents hold a press conference outside the school at 17th and Spring Garden in support of teachers in regards to asbestos and the "district's broken promises" on Monday morning, Aug. 30, 2021.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

As the 2021-22 school year begins — the first time the School District of Philadelphia has been fully in person since March 2020 — it’s off to a rocky start.

Students have walked in and parents have seen pictures of the atrocities our children are forced to exist amongst: plastic and tape not fully covering mold and asbestos remediation areas, plumbing not fully functioning, and school recreation areas unkempt.

These conditions are not appropriate for anyone — let alone young, vulnerable children. Too much has not been completed, even though the district has had months before school began to finish the work. Last year, parents were offered a short-term resolution of hybrid or remote learning. But this year, while mold and asbestos remediation is being completed, we are expected to walk our children into more exposed environmental conditions than they last left them. Only some families have been offered the option of hybrid learning when parents and teachers organized and challenged the district’s decision. Meanwhile, some schools have sanitation concerns — including piles of trash in the schoolyard at Laura H. Carnell Elementary School — and widespread issues with unreliable transportation.

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I believe that many of these issues stem from a lack of parental involvement.

The School District, enabled by the Board of Education, made plans for school with only a few info sessions and surveys for parent input. Just a small amount of data was collected from parents and community members in a sterilized way. The Board of Education only allows parents to speak for two to three minutes at meetings, not nearly enough time to express opinions about what revisions were needed to these plans.

As we neared the beginning of this school year, the impression parents were given by the School District was: “Trust us.”

If my input as a parent had been sought, I would’ve told the district and school board that not all schools are ready to receive children at full-day, full-time, full classroom capacity, something we are seeing play out in these early weeks of school.

Right now, parents need to choose whether or not to allow their children to go to school in person and should be offered an option to continue on the hybrid education model or go fully virtual with the option to remain a student at their same school. Spoken as a parent, that’s what children need right now.

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Moving forward, parents need to be at the table for all decision-making. Not just the Board of Education. Not just the School District of Philadelphia. Not just teachers. Not just principals. Parents need more time to speak at Board of Education meetings. There need to be more frequent surveys and listening sessions (administered first at the school level, then the School District level) to get more data from parents. There should be more parents of K-12 students on the Board of Education. The Parent and Community Advisory Council should be more parent-leaning, and the concerns/issues addressed should be included in board meetings. We need to see more parents from parent-led and -centered organizations like Philadelphia Home and School Council and Philadelphia Parents Coalition in equitable decision-making roles in both city and state bodies.

Because of what we’ve seen in these early weeks of the school year, changes should be made immediately to better serve families. We — decision-makers of the Board of Education, the Parent and Community Advisory Council, the School District of Philadelphia, and leaders of independent parent groups — need to all come to the table today and ongoing to create the plans that can work for all families.

Cierra Freeman is the founder of the Philadelphia Parents Coalition and vice president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council.