A parents advocacy group called Wednesday for a seat at the table as the state prepares to overhaul its education system during this year’s legislative session.
“Children don’t vote, they don’t sign medical release forms, you can’t even send them on a field trip without our consent. But yet the decisions that would impact their fate, their future, lies in everyone else’s hands,” Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, said at a Capitol press conference.
Samuel said people are often quick to blame parents for poor education, but said most of what happens within the education system is outside of their control. She cited the recent controversy in Middletown where special needs students have reportedly been placed in “time out rooms,” dubbed “scream rooms,” to calm them down.
“Are you going to blame that on us? We didn’t make that decision. Parents didn’t know about it. I have yet to find a parent that will sign a release form that says ‘please put my child in this dungeon-like institution,” she said.
Samuel said she formed the group during last year’s session to give parents a voice to influence education policy decisions.
Rep. Douglas McCrory, a vice principal at Hartford’s Capitol Region Education Council, said parents need to be brought to the discussion at the beginning of the reform process “instead of doing reform and tell them, ‘okay, this is what it’s going to look like for you.’”
“For the past 20 or so years that hasn’t worked and we cannot continue down that path,” he said.
Samuel offered some recommendations for education reform which included scrapping teacher tenure.
She said the group was not anti-teacher and praised the leadership of the CEA and AFT. However, she brought up AFT’s efforts to “circumvent” the Parents Union last year on a legislative proposal to give parents more say in how failing schools are run.
“I want this to be very clear—as long as you have my child, I am not circumventable,” she said.
The group endorsed a proposal put forth by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents that recommends offering teachers five-year contracts which districts may or may not renew.
“We have some great teachers. We have some okay teachers and we have some that need to find another profession and for some reason we’re afraid to say that. But yet you will hold parents and families responsible for the decisions that are made in the classroom,” she said.
Samuel said the state’s school residency laws also need to be reformed. Parents should be able to choose which public school their child attends and not be punished for wanting them in a safe school, she said. Requiring parents to send their kids to a failing school is like passing a law that requires patients to see a incompetent surgeon, she said.
“When schools are not performing, when schools are unsafe, you have to give us a measure to choose something better,” she said.
School governance councils also require reform, she said. The councils, created in 2010, allow parents to act in an advisory capacity. Samuel said the councils should have more power and she contested a law that allows some low-performing schools to be exempt from dealing with them.
The group is also recommending that lawmakers pass legislation to push back the date on which schools count their students from October to January to ensure they are receiving funding for students who are actually there.
Teachers and principals also need access to better preparation programs, Samuel said. Teachers need to be exposed to urban internships to familiarize themselves with the clientele they will be serving, she said.