Being a parent is a very tough, labor intensive job. After all, we are responsible for nurturing and shaping the minds, values and behaviors of our country’s future leaders, teachers, doctors, scientists, etc. Isn’t that the reason a parent is a child’s first teacher?
Parents have the responsibility for choosing the best doctors to meet their child’s medical needs, where to buy healthy foods to meet their nutritional needs, what programs they watch on television, and what friends they are allowed to visit. The bottom line is that parents set the boundaries at home and within the community to support their children’s academic and life needs.
But if a parent chooses to send their child to the best public school based on their academic needs, chances are likely that they are violating a local school district residency law and are subject to arrest, unless they live in a choice district. Yes, parents, homeless parents and grandparents are being arrested for sending their children and grandchildren to schools of their choice – out of district.
In January, Ohio mom Kelley Williams–Bolar was convicted for sending her children to an out of district school. She said she made a choice in the safety and academic interests of her children, which, by the way, are the responsibility of a parent.
In April, a homeless Connecticut mom, Tanya McDowell, was arrested for first degree larceny for the “theft of an education” for her 5-year-old son, who was removed from the school.
Ana Marquez, the mother of two young children aged four and six, was nice enough to allow homeless McDowell to use her address to receive school mail on behalf of McDowell’s son. To add more injury to this injustice, Marquez was evicted from her public housing apartment and forced to live in a homeless shelter.
The end results for Tanya McDowell: two homeless people have now become five homeless people all because of a simple fact: parents want what’s best for their children. No hidden agendas, just wanting to give their children access to an effective school that teaches the necessary skill sets needed to graduate from high school and a career or technical college and engage in civic engagement processes like voting.
Well, you may not have heard about a second arrest and conviction in Connecticut in 2011. Marie Menard, a grandmother, property owner and taxpayer in Stratford, and her daughter Ana Wade, a young mother in Milford, were also arrested and charged with stealing an education.
There should be no questions regarding choice in Connecticut. The state is one of the richest in the nation but is also home to some of the nation’s poorest cities. It’s home to some of the most prestigious universities and schools in the nation, yet its academic achievement gap is among the widest in the nation.
As parents, registered voters, and tax payers, we all understand our country is facing the severe impacts of this educational and economic crisis. But arresting parents - the primary care givers of children - for “theft of an education” will not improve our educational and economic challenges.
It will take fiscal and results-based accountability, transparency, and effective home, community and school partnerships to turn around a vast majority of America’s low-performing schools.
Parents must ask themselves this question: why do we leave sole decision-making power regarding our children’s educational well-being in the hands of educators, administrators and public policymakers when we know some of those decisions are fiscally irresponsible or put our children at risk?
The answer: parents don’t leave it solely in the hands of educators, administrators and public policymakers, and for that we may be subject to arrest for being the responsible adult and choosing the best schools for our children. We cannot continue to allow the arrests of parents who only want a good education for their children.
The days of blindly trusting educators, administrators and public policymakers are over. Parents are learning to read and understand data. Parents are learning what a high-quality school looks like. And low performance will no longer be an acceptable option for our children.
Hold on, this is not the ending of this story.
Parents, guardians and families are becoming an organized power base that votes and thus can and will level the playing field within the public policymaking arena to ensure that each student has access to the skills needed to graduate high school and move on to a technical or career college. And while every child will not attend college, that does not mean they should not have access to a college-ready academic experience.
Parents know all too well that America needs access to a highly qualified workforce to help stabilize the current economic meltdown. Our children are the qualified workforce the country is looking for and needs.
Gwendolyn Samuel is a mother of two children in Connecticut public schools, the founder of the CT Parents Union, and a 2010 delegate to Parenting Magazine's Mom Congress.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.