I have been asked many times why 20% of North Carolina families are no longer in the public school system — a number that is growing by the day.
Let me share a real story to illustrate one of the reasons. Out of respect to the family involved, I have kept their identity anonymous. But I believe this story sadly illustrates how frequently “the system” puts its priorities above the interests of individual families, forcing them to explore other options or flat-out flee.
A family of four recently moved to a new neighborhood and must send their school-age child to a new school. Their preference was to attend the local year-round school because they believed it would enable their child to stay more academically engaged throughout the year. In addition, the family was very interested in the year-round school’s STEM-enhanced classes, in a desire to further their child’s interest in science and math (the little one has shown a quick propensity to both subjects).
Shortly before closing on the house, the mother visited the year-round school. The school was able to pinpoint an open seat for the family’s student. Their child was enrolled in the year-round school, the mom received a carpool tag and classroom assignment, and she was told, “We’ll see you next Monday to start right away.”
A very satisfied “customer,” right? Not so fast.
Minutes after leaving the year-round school, the mom received a call from the data manager at the year-round school informing her that they made a mistake — they cannot enroll their child after all even though a seat was available. The year-round is an application school, and the family was instructed to enroll their child in their base school first and then apply for the year-round option.
Upon calling the school system “we were told there is a spot available for our daughter at the year-round application school,” the message back to the family was that the school might not need another student at the year-round school, and that “the school doesn’t understand the 30,000-foot view. We might need your student at the base school instead of the year-round school.”
There it is.
We, “the system,” might need your student in one school instead of another.
The family then went through a pair of application and appeal processes, but they were denied entry into the year-round school.
This family specifically wanted to have their children in the local public schools. They believe in a strong public school system. But “the system” drove them away by denying even the most basic request of access to a year-round rather than traditional calendar school.
How is this any different than a system placing its needs before those of the student and the family? I have personally seen, time and time again, this sort of prioritization of bureaucracy and government control placed above people in my 35 years in education.
We have long believed at Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina that the educational decisions regarding where a child should go to school are best left in the hands of those closest to them, their parents and families. When we empower parents with educational choice and prioritize the needs of families and children over systems, we have a greater shot at success in education in our state.
Mike Long is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC).