Don’t fence the family in!
Fences and gates are physical boundaries.
For schools, their value is clear. Physical boundaries fulfill their literal intent – to keep people in or out. Decisions about those boundaries rest with the principal. Outside the school’s gates and fences, though, what are the ‘boundaries’ of a principal’s authority and responsibility, with regard to a student’s care and instruction?
Principals approve excursions, camps, international cultural tours, homework, and weekend sport – all of which take place beyond a school’s physical boundaries.
But what of the other scenarios that gain less attention?
Here are a few examples of the relationships between a school principals and students that extend beyond normal school boundaries.
Behaviour on Public Transport
Students who commute directly to and from school via public transport are expected to adhere to their school’s code of behaviour. If a student is given a fine for failure to pay a fare or for inappropriate behaviour, is the principal responsible for paying the fine?
A student misbehaves and is given detention. Teaching staff may leave the school 15 minutes after the conclusion of instruction each day. Does a principal have the right to withhold students from their parents – by way of detention – after instruction has ceased on any given day?
The school sets homework, some of which requires students to access technology. If cyber bullying occurs between children who are students at the same school, is the principal responsible for the behaviour?
A principal decides that a student, who is a child, is considered mature enough to make a decision that contravenes a parent’s wishes or choices. Is the principal responsible for the consequences of the decision in the real world?
The United Nations states: ‘Elementary education shall be compulsory’.1 ‘Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children’.2 Is the principal responsible if children who are also students do not have their needs met by the curriculum determined by the principal?
‘Principal’ is defined as the most important or influential and a person who has controlling authority.3
‘Parent’ is defined as one that begets or brings forth offspring or the one indicated to be or act as the parent.4
Three questions come to mind.
1. When is the parent the principal in matters regarding that parent’s child, who is also a student?
2. When is a principal not a parent in matters regarding a child who is a student?
3. If the title of a school leader were changed to Managing Director, would these questions still be contentious?
The notion that the title of principal, its interpretation and its boundaries could actually raise such questions shows that every so often governments forget the value of the family, the role of the school and the government’s responsibility to the family in the first instance.
Have the fences and gates around schools become nothing more than symbols of a mandate to enforce school attendance?
One final question:
Is that mandate simply to remove children-students from their parents, or have the boundaries around schools extended to include the family home?
1 Article 26 (1) Universal Declaration of Human Rights
2 Article 26 (3) Universal Declaration of Human Rights
3 Merriam Webster Dictionary
4 Merriam Webster Dictionary
Copyright © Cheryl Lacey 2019
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