Parental "Volunteer" Requirements at Alaska Charter Schools

I found the discussion during Monday's House Education Committee hearing about how “charter schools are so much better because of parental involvement, and how can we make other parents more involved – it would just solve much of the problems, and we can’t make it easier for parents to have their children attend charter schools by providing transportation, meals, and charter school facilities, because then the parents wouldn’t be as committed to making the charter schools successful” very difficult to listen to because of my personal experience with a charter school and the “volunteer” time required of parents.  

My daughter began her public education in kindergarten at an Alaska charter school, I won’t say which school district. The charter school required a considerable amount of “volunteer” time per year – something like 45 or 60 hours, with 15 or 20 hours required per trimester (that was how they had it broken down, and I don’t remember specifically what the exact hour requirement was).  In August before school began, the school put out a request for parents to come clean the school.  I thought, great, I can knock off some of my volunteer time.  Nowhere in the request for volunteers did it say that the time would not count toward the required parental “volunteer” time. I spent hours and hours cleaning the school. 

At the beginning of the year, I signed up for jobs to fulfill the remaining hours I thought I had left for the first trimester.  I was told after the sign up period that I still had to do more hours, because the work I had done before school started didn’t count.  The school turned out to be very rigid about what sorts of things counted and what did not count toward the required “volunteer” time.  The only things left to volunteer for at that point were half hour recess slots.  In addition to the volunteer jobs I had already signed up for, and the work I had done before school started, I had to volunteer for 22 half hour recess slots that first trimester.  Do you know how hard it was to volunteer for 22 recess slots just for the first two and a half months of school, when I also had for that first trimester:

  • A not quite two-year-old toddler
  • Jury duty
  • A miscarriage
  • A spouse who was unable to help fulfill the "volunteer" requirement because of employment obligations

But parents are required to fulfill their "volunteer" time, no matter what hardships or other obligations they may have.  I did not get a pass on fulfilling my "volunteer" obligations just because I also had a two year old, jury duty, and a miscarriage that fall.  On top of those challenges, I ended up volunteering much more than the supposed required time, because the school was very rigid about what qualified to fulfill their “volunteer” requirements.  Needless to say, we withdrew our daughter from that school after kindergarten, even though she was happy there and liked her teacher and classmates. 

It was this experience that taught me that charter schools do not actually serve all children.  They don’t serve children whose parents have other obligations that prevent them from performing the “volunteer” time that the charter school may require.  They don’t serve children who have parents who don’t have a car or the time to drive the student to school.  They don’t serve children whose parents have to work multiple jobs,  overtime, or who have to travel a lot for work.  They don’t serve children whose parents have health problems, other children to care for, or disabled family members for whom they are caring, or any other issues that make it difficult for them to do the “volunteer” service that the school demands.  

There is not much that is more offensive to a parent who is stretched so thin that they struggle to meet their day-to-day tasks than telling them they should spend more of their “free time” “volunteering” at their child’s school, and I thought a few of the comments at Monday’s House Education Committee hearing were blind to the reality that many people face every day. 

Thanks for indulging my rant.  I know that the goal of everyone who subscribes to the Alaska Education Update is to have the very best education system that we can have.  Recently retired APRN reporter Dave Donaldson has been posting some pretty harsh criticisms on his blog since he retired (http://akj3.com/).  Judging from Dave’s experience, it appears as though it might be better if a person rants a little once in a while now, instead of holding it all in until retirement.  And I might actually be crazy for telling you all this.  Forgive me.

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