What do you do when school rules and your rules don’t agree?

by DaniGirl on April 9, 2013 · 15 comments

in Ah, me boys, Mothering without a licence

So here’s a question for you: what do you do when you disagree with the unofficial policies of your child’s school?

Today’s question is inspired in part by a note that came home yesterday insisting all students must wear splash or wind pants in the school yard or be kept inside at recess. This is the first I’ve heard of this requirement, and I have neither the resources nor, frankly, the inclination to try to find splash pants for all three of them. Midweek, no less. And spending $20 plus, multiplied by three, for something they’ll wear for a week or two does not appeal to me either. I sent a note back to the school to that effect, and each boy packed a pair of dry pants as a concilliatory gesture and “just in case” measure – but I trust them enough to believe that when they promise to stay out of the mud and puddles, they will do so.

To me, this gets into the grey area between school rules and parenting. I sympathize with the school’s desire to keep the muck and mud outside, but if they’re going to make splash pants mandatory, I’d like more than a day’s notice. An example that slips even further outside the zone of school responsibility, IMHO, was the time last fall when one boy had a piece of candy taken away the day after Halloween. A note came home saying the teachers did not feel that amount of sugar was appropriate for a morning snack. (In my defense, I had ALSO packed a piece of fruit. And I didn’t realize that Beloved had also slipped a piece of candy into each child’s lunch box, in addition to the treat I’d permitted. Regardless, I truly believe that unless I am packing varsol-filled thermoses and asbestos sandwiches, the school has no right to judge or interfere with what I put in their lunch boxes.)

I’m leery to even talk about these examples on the blog because I adore the boys’ school and the staff. I think they’re hard-working and kind and we’re lucky to be part of such a great community. But I’m curious as to how you handle these types of conflict because I am torn. For the most part, I’m happy to follow the rules even when I disagree with them and think it’s important that the kids see me respecting authority. Rules are in place for a good reason – most of the time. However, another part of me wonders if there isn’t value in teaching them to question authority when authority clearly oversteps its bounds (as I believe it has, in these two examples at least.) And finally, a part of me worries that causing trouble will somehow make the kids’ relationship with their teachers and school authorities more difficult than it should be or has to be. I don’t want them to be labled as troublemakers, even if by proxy.

125:365 Puddle jumper

(FWIW, I think the splash pants rule is maybe more acceptable for the littlest kids. I will continue to send Lucas in his ski pants, partly because he goes in the morning when it’s still cool and partly because I don’t think a four-year-old has the same ability to resist a puddle that a nine- or eleven-year-old might have.)

So what do you think? Would you let these things go or speak up? For the candy incident, I let it go. It was a well-intentioned action, even if it left me feeling judged and more than a little annoyed. For the splash pants, I simply can’t comply but I tried to offer up a reasonable compromise. Do you think there is value in talking back when you disagree with unofficial policies and rules like this, or is it better for community harmony to shrug it off and comply?

(Edited to add: in no way is this post intended to reflect poorly on the boys’ school or its administration. They have a difficult role balancing many competing priorities and I have nothing but respect and even affection for them. Even if I disagree with an occasional policy or two, I can’t say enough nice things about how lucky we are to be a part of such a great community and this post was in no way meant to be critical of them. I used these examples simply to illustrate a larger issue that I think many parents face, regardless of which school their children attend.)

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alison April 9, 2013 at 8:02 am

You are not alone! I don’t think it is the place of the school to dictate snacks, lunch or splash pants! Unless there is a dangerous situation or clothing is inappropriate for school (ie. halter tops or short shorts) leave the parenting decisions to me!

2 Lynn April 9, 2013 at 8:13 am

This is such a tough one. I think teaching and running a school are very, very tough jobs, and I know they deal with annoyed parents every day, so I try hard to be understanding and give the benefit of the doubt and only raise objections in the smallest of squeaky voices.

But still, there have been (only) a couple of times when I really felt like I did not agree with what the school was doing. I felt confident raising my concerns to the teachers, who were always super sympathetic and worked hard to find a solution that everyone would agree with.

I have had much less success dealing with the administration on more wide-sweeping issues of policy. They are very good at issuing placating platitudes, and then ignoring your thoughts and suggestions. I know they have a hard job and they can’t run a school via the group think of 500 parents. But it would be nice to feel listened-to sometimes, I think.

Anyway, I think you absolutely did the right thing, and a reasonable thing, and I think speaking/messaging one-on-one with the boys’ teachers will lead to a happy, sensible conclusion – but I woudn’t bother trying to change the school-wide policy through the office, GAH.

3 Scatteredmom April 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Since I work at schools, I have a different perspective than most, I think-but it also makes me more prone to speaking up when I think a rule is ridiculous. Splash pants would be great for kids in primary grades (K-2). There is NO need for kids 9-11 to be wearing them unless they want to, because they are old enough to understand to stay out of puddles and will without supervision. If they don’t, they’re also old enough to suffer the natural consequences.

When it comes to lunches, I bristle. The law in BC is such that schools cannot take foods away or tell parents what they can put in a lunchbox. They can make suggestions, and sadly, sometimes it’s really needed. There are times when kids come with a can of pop and a few pieces of lunchmeat, or nothing but cookies, and in those cases it’s important to say something. I do think that some people take this too far. As a staff person, it’s not right to impose your own view of what’s healthy vs what’s not on small children who have no control over their lunches. It becomes a very slippery slope when staff begin taking away one treat but not another, as we experienced when Kevin was told a home made brownie was not okay, but another child was allowed packaged cookies and icing. I believe that schools need to create change through education and example (ie not giving candy as rewards), and stay out of the children’s lunchboxes. Here is where I have NO issue telling people to back off, because what I feed my kid is my business and if they don’t like it, well…. too damn bad.

You can do it in a way that just says, “hey-I don’t agree. Here’s why.” that is respectful and won’t get you labeled as a troublemaker. I do think though, that it’s good for kids to know that adults don’t know everything and aren’t always right. There’s a way to disagree, respectfully.

4 Jenn Jilks April 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

I do think they should dictate snacks, but not to that extent. I’ve had kids come in with LARGE bags of chips, donuts for lunch, with chocolate milk. The mother was obese, child skinny.
That said, many young principals make stupid decisions.
They are upper middle class people, who do not understand the rest of the world.
Not everyone can afford shoes, let alone splash pants. A change of clothes is an excellent decision. I kept my kid’s used clothes in the classroom, or we’d send kids down to the lost and found.

We cannot nor should not prevent kids from being active. I kept a couple of special needs kids in at recess and the principal chastized me in front of the kids, saying they needed to get outdoors. You cannot win!
Good post.

5 karen April 9, 2013 at 9:21 am

I have never heard of mandatory splash pants. It is not a rule I would follow with my ten year old. I may have when he was younger. I would actually love him to wear them because he plays soccer at recess and is always in nets. Lets just say there isn’t much grass where they play so splash pants would come in handy. But at age 10 I totally get why he does not want to wear them.

My biggest pet peeve with his school is how they constantly remind you to pack a healthy lunch and snack but then turn around and reward them with donuts or candy. I realize they are just trying to be kind but it seems ridiculous to me. We live in a very small community so I have yet to say anything. There are eyes and ears every where.

6 valerie April 9, 2013 at 9:28 am

I think you did the right thing – sending a note and a compromise sounds good to me. I think the school could have SUGGESTED splash pants would be appropriate. And I agree that they’re more appropriate for the younger kids. My 11 yr old could use some, actually (she came home with mud-covered pants yesterday, having left hers at home) but she’s quick to put them on if she knows that she’s going mud-hunting.

As for the snack, I think they went too far, especially since it was a one-time thing. Our teachers might say “perhaps you can see if you have something healthier in your lunch bag”, but wouldn’t take stuff away.

I think you’re right to teach your kids to obey rules in general, but to question and speak up if they feel others are overstepping their bounds. Like with doctors, bosses, adults that make you uncomfortable – it’s not always good to just do as your told. You have to think for yourself. 🙂

7 SC April 9, 2013 at 10:20 am

Having my oldest in kindergarten this year, I am fairly new to this but have to say I have been battling this one in the back of my mind for a while now. I hate when a note comes home from our school and the word mandatory is underlined when in fact what they are talking about is an option for parents. Half the time I think the problem is the author of the notes, which may not be the school teacher or even the principal. Either way, I think the school needs to be more suggestive to parents and less paternalistic. I also tend to think that these notes that come home are aimed at 5 or 10% of parents in the school system, but are worded like its 95% of the parents committing the crimes! It bugs the heck out of me, but like you I mainly keep my mouth shut so that I’m not viewed as trouble making parent.

8 Elise April 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

I agree with most of the comments here.
I generally try to follow their rules.
When I disagree with a rule, but can accommodate /avoid it, then I go this route. Eg food: when my mother sends chocolate from back home (black chocolate from a baker who makes his own chocolate), I don’t add the chocolate to the lunch box, but I add it to his “after-school snack” which he mostly takes on his own, while he is going to after-school. He knows that if he takes it out at school, the teacher will take it, so it’s up to him to wait until he’s allowed to eat it. (I tend to never refuse sweets because we’re not even halfway through our Halloween candy, and he asks for candies or chocolate maybe twice or 3 times a month – so I don’t want to make it an issue). But I respect the school rules while still finding a way to give him what he wants.
When I can’t compromise between their rules and mine, I try to ask if an alternative solution like you did would work. I also talk with the kid and tell him – ok, we’re not following this rule, but you have to know it’s your responsibility, and let the teacher know I had this talk with him.
Or sometimes, I just ignore. And play dumb. Like “splash pants, yes, I am considering maybe buying some, but you know, so busy, and oh, so so so sorry, but look, the good weather is finally here, so no need of splash pants anymore, hey?”
This is my last resort, I am not too proud, but sometimes, it just is easier…

9 Amy @ Muddy Boots April 9, 2013 at 11:12 am

During our year in Bogota, Liam was 7 years old and in grade 2. They had to write SATs. SATs!

Each night, he’d have to do practice tests. Timed practice tests. Like, 5-10 seconds per question. It was RIDICULOUS. He could do all the questions when given a normal amount of time, but the timed aspect of it STRESSED him so much that he couldn’t do a single question. The practice tests that they’d do in class would come home with scores like 2/20. He was MISERABLE. Like, IN TEARS about it. At seven years old!

I let his teacher know in no uncertain terms that I did not agree with these types of tests for this young of child. And that I put no weight at all in his test scores. He was so focused and anxious about the timer that he could hardly do a single question. It was cruel.

Now that we’re back? Well, yeah for homeschooling! 😉

10 carol April 9, 2013 at 8:40 pm

As a teacher, I might suggest that the splash pants ruling came from the following (not that I’m agreeing …): the classrooms were getting really dirty because of the wet/dirty clothes and the caretaker was complaining about the length of time it takes to clean a dirty mucky school especially in the primary grades where there is a carpet that needs to be vacuumed and kept sanitary; and also that parents were complaining to the teachers that their children’s clothes were getting ruined (some parents insist on sending their kids to school in really nice clothes – and why?) and the teacher finally got fed up with the “ruined clothes” complaint and came up with the splash pants rule. Also, some kids will not work/play in school in wet and dirty clothes even though they are happy to play in water and mud. There is a lot of time after recess getting the little kids cleaned up, dried off and into fresh clothes. All of this cuts into teaching time – so on and so forth … However, if any teacher had ever kept my kids in for recess, I would have no problem, as a teacher, becoming extremely vocal on that one. Kids need their time outside. As for the candy, the teacher needs to lighten up. Really? Especially if you are sending a mostly healthy snack. I teach Grade 8 and I regularly buy my kids apples and oranges – and chocolate and timbits. Talk to the teacher and grab some splash pants at the next garage sale you happen to be passing. Deep breath.

11 cinnamon gurl April 9, 2013 at 9:03 pm

I am not a big fan of obeying authority for the sake of authority. One of my many reasons for deciding to homeschool was because of things like you describe. I was getting really annoyed by all the discussion of ‘healthy’ food. For one thing, I define the nutritive value of food based on what’s in it not on what it lacks (i.e., low-fat, sugar-free, etc, etc.) For another, I’m not a fan of dividing foods along ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ poles. All food has something to offer, even if it’s just calories. I guess I heard a bit too much of, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” when I was growing up. Eating has become so shameful for so many people.

Another reason was the potential homework. I knew I wouldn’t force my kid to do any and I didn’t think it was fair to have him stuck in the middle.

But you asked about splash pants. Funnily enough, I have never bought a pair of splash pants. The daycare my oldest went to had spare clothes and never required them. We did get a pair of hand-me-downs last fall for my youngest, and I have to say I’m a fan. But for my 7yo they were never necessary. I think your response was totally reasonable.

12 Mary @ Parenthood April 10, 2013 at 5:35 am

Oh man, this is totally my biggest fear about sending my child to school next year. We homeschooled for preschool and I would totally keep on keeping on, except that I really think the french-board school in question will do a better job of making her bilingual than her Anglo parents will. And becoming bilingual is a major goal for us, even if dealing with snack silliness isn’t.

I don’t even know what splash pants are (what I call rain pants?) but I’m quite sure my child doesn’t have them. I think a change of clothes is a reasonable compromise. My kid is only four but quite capable of changing her own clothes when necessary, so I don’t buy that this is an unnecessary burden on the teachers. It might “cut into class time”, but in my experience not allowing recess dramatically reduces ability of child to concentrate and THAT would interfere with learning to a far greater extent than taking time to change.

13 Gus&Otto April 10, 2013 at 9:25 am

This is such a hard one. As are so many of the school rules these days. I get where the teachers are coming from, but I think that they should be able to identify the problem and then let parents come up with a solution (granted, I recognize that you’d get 10+ solutions and a situation that’s impossible to manage).

When our kids were in grades 1-6, the school implemented a litterless lunch policy. That drove me nuts. It was initially brought under the greening the school initiative, but then it was about reducing waste fees and trying to keep pre-packaged food/junk food out of the classroom. So we’d have to buy a whole bunch of reusable plastic containers, and those got lost on a weekly basis, and take any food like a granola bar out of its package before sending it to school. There wasn’t any less garbage, just less garbage at the school.

This also speaks of privilege and socioeconomics. We live downtown in Ottawa, my kids have attended mostly urban schools, and there’s such a range of kids there. We don’t have a school activity fee or pizza days or school supply lists because most of the families couldn’t afford it. If you can’t send your kid to school with kleenex and pencil crayons, how the heck are you going to pay for splash pants! These are schools with breakfast programs because that’s often the only meal the kids get. I can’t even tell you the number of kids who the school banded together to buy them the essentials like WINTER BOOTS and JACKETS! So, I think schools also need to think about the politics of class when they implement these policies.

14 Anonymous April 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

I don’t think there’s anything here I don’t agree with – yes, teachers are awesome, I love our school for the most part, no I don’t think obeying authority for authority’s sake is great or necessary to model for your kids, splash pants are good but no way in hell would I run out midweek to buy three pairs and I would bristle at the demand, litterless lunches make less garbage at school, not less garbage (although the reusable containers have actually worked quite well for us), HUGE privilege issue, and WOW would I be irate if someone took something away that I had put in my child’s lunch; I agree that feeding your kids crap isn’t good, and I get the whole processed food/obesity epidemic issue, but I also hate the food hysteria that seems to be de rigeur lately (my kid ate some fishy crackers! Call poison control!), and you better freaking believe that between the allergy restrictions of the school and my kids’ own finicky preferences I have thought long and hard about the balance of their lunch – mess with it at your peril.

So what would I do? I’m not great at confrontation, so I tend to go with the politely worded email to the principal and then doing what I feel is reasonable and right. It hasn’t blown up in my face so far.

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