Editor’s note: This commentary from Gwen Samuel, president and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union and a reimaginED guest blogger, written in the form of a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, appeared recently on Samuel’s blog.
When the Biden Administration announced that it was creating an “unprecedented” advisory council to elevate the role of parents and families in schools, I became full of mixed emotions.
Why? Because our parent group and similar groups across the nation have been engaged in that work for years— some for decades – with minimal parent right protections from the U.S. Department of Education.
God knows I try so hard to stay optimistic, but when I dug into the details, all I saw was an effort that looks a lot like window dressing covering up many issues parents and families are actually concerned about right now during this unprecedented time in the lives of our children.
Summer is here. Many schools are closing for summer break while many parents from rural, suburban, and urban America are scrambling to find activities and resources that help keep their kids occupied safely all while seeking additional academic and youth mental health supports critically needed due to massive learning loss and isolation that occurred because of school closures over the last two years related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research during and after the pandemic has identified spikes in juvenile delinquency and violent crime and massive learning loss. No longer are we talking about achievement gaps; we are talking achievement gulfs. Marginalized communities are still dealing with our country’s ongoing literacy crisis.
The CDC has emphasized the need to support the youth mental health crises from long-term isolation. Safety remains a number one concern for parents, families and many communities. In addition, many families, from all backgrounds, are worried about what is being taught in their kids’ classrooms when it comes to sexuality and sex.
Parents and families from all parts of our country are dealing with many of these major educational and life challenges all while our country is still reeling from the recent aftermath of mass shootings involving children and educators.
As a result, and in my opinion, parents and guardians and the community do not have time for a partisan government-run solution that clearly will value some parent and family voices while alienating others. I base some of my conclusions on the precedent set by this administration in recent months. All of which brings me to wonder why the Biden administration has characterized its new parent council as “unprecedented”.
Solutions to bring together parents, families and the school community is not new. Sustainable parent and family relationship building with educators is always a best practice. Making sure all our voices are represented at this government table, for the betterment of all children, is something I thought we might be able to help with.
That is why I gathered input from some diverse parent perspectives who already are doing the work engaging other parents across the country, in their respective communities, regarding K-12 education. Here is what they had to say:
Kelley Williams-Bolar, parent and youth advocate (Ohio): Mental health takes precedence over academics. We must take care of our children’s anxiety, depression, PTSD, and any other emotion in addition to applying learning in our classrooms. The Parent council is a great step, but we must include our children’s input when discussing them all while keeping mental health a priority.
Maria Cordero, grandmother of 10 (Connecticut): Dr. Cardona, recuerde que los abuelos también están criando estudiantes, asegúrese de que nuestras voces sean parte del Consejo de padres y familias. Maria Cordero’s quote translation: Dr. Cardona, remember that grandparents are raising students too, make sure our voices are part of the Council of Parents and Families.
Charles Harris, dad of six (Georgia): As the father of six children who have gone through the public school system, I have noticed a void in the area of inclusion for fathers. There is a great amount of data that highlights the importance of father involvement in the lives of children. Although there are a great many households in which the father does not reside, the schools need to do a better job of treating both custodial and non-custodial parents equally.
Tremayne Haymer, Nashville parent education advocate (Tennessee): Unfortunately when it comes to “unprecedented” changes and “innovative” programs to help disadvantaged and marginalized communities, the people in said communities often are not a part of the conversation or have a seat at the table when it comes to planning. I am curious to know even if canvassing or consulting with REAL parents was a part of the body of this new council. Because honestly speaking, this sounds like yet another placebo being administered to satisfy votes.
Najimah Roberson of Harrisburg Families United (Pennsylvania): As an urban parent leader the only way to support my voice would be to give all children educational freedom. Lack of education = Violence = The same old prison pipeline! Biden can do better!
Mama Bear Gwen Samuel, president, and founder CT Parents Union (Connecticut): Every day there is a new flavor of the month solution in public education. As a result, I teach parents/guardians not to blindly trust any system. Parents, regardless of race or zip code, must always fight to ensure the safety, education, and overall wellbeing of their child and all children. I support any entity that values ALL parent and family voices – keyword ALL – even if we have different points of view on an issue.
Erika Sanzi of Parents Defending Education (Rhode Island): If the goal of this parent council is to quell parent concerns, it will backfire quickly since it excludes groups that stand up for parental rights and groups that are on the ground in local communities listening to parents and working to bring about meaningful change. It is also strange that people who defended the letter calling parents “domestic terrorists” are on the council. Good luck with that, Mr. President.
Asia Taylor of Harrisburg Families United (Pennsylvania): At the end of the day the key to a successful education for a child is parent involvement! The government needs to knock down this invisible but ever so evident wall and allow us parents to choose for our children!
Lin Yang, mom, and board member of Chinese American Heritage Association (Connecticut): I believe the American Dream is founded upon the premise of equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, that we are not judged by the color of our skin but the content of our characters. However, the recent trend in our educational institutions towards the assignment of victim groups among our children by their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is extremely deleterious to our society’s meritocratic foundations. In particular, we strongly oppose the ethnic subgroup registry of Asian-American students. Please treat all our children as equals instead of victims.