Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tell me yet again, it's about the children -- why attitudes matter

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:29 AM |  

I haven’t written anything about the Red Lake shootings, partly because I just don’t think there is a way to comment without making some kind of political statement. One should not impose on personal grief for the sake of what is often trivial. Until today, there was nothing I wished to say that was worth compromising the grief of those individuals directly affected by the shootings -- until reading today's Pioneer Press story on the reopening of Red Lake High School.

In far less tragic circumstances, at hearings on the Hann/Buesgens educational access grant legislation, superintendents Pat Harvey (St. Paul) and Thandiwe Peebles (Minneapolis) made the argument (conjunctively with the documentation showing that public schools provide excellent education) that vouchers encourage kids to transfer out of the public schools and would therefore cause districts financial hardship.

In other words, the parental desire for alternative education is secondary to the financial needs of the system; the desire of the individual must be sacrificed for the good of the collective whole.

I raise that point because in a sterile legislative committee hearing the superintendents' argument at least appears a reasonable albeit debatable and somewhat self-serving position that is otherwise morally benign. However, extend that same attitude into the tragic context of the Red Lake shootings, and its nature as a morally destructive carcinogen becomes self-evident.

The following paragraphs appear at the end of today’s Pioneer Press story on the reopening of Red Lake High School --

Schools that border the Red Lake Indian reservation are refusing to accept transfers from Red Lake schools.

Two students who asked to transfer into the Kelliher district were denied, said Kelliher superintendent Terry Bartness. Bartness said it's important for Red Lake students to work through the grieving process together.

"We want to be compassionate and concerned and caring, but on the other hand we don't want to steal kids from Red Lake so they don't end up with financial problems, either," Bartness said.
I don’t believe that Kelliher superintendent is an evil person. However, think about the situation and the response.

Here you have two families concerned about their children’s safety at Red Lake and the prevailing bureaucratic response amounts to -- I’m sorry, but WE the school district know best how you should grieve; WE the school district must protect financial integrity of the system and therefore cannot respect parental decisions about their own children’s safety. Nonetheless, do not consider us without compassion, concern and caring.

If the mindset is such (and I admit to making a generalization here) that a school superentendent can decree that families send their children to a school where shootings occurred while the involvement of others is still under investigation, is it any wonder our local superintendents stand so rigidly on the metaphoric schoolhouse steps and for the sake of the system’s financial security refuse to emancipate low-income families to choose an alternative form of education for their children?

UPDATE: According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the Enrollment Options law requires students to apply for open enrollment by January 15 for the next school year. If a student meets that deadline, the only reason a school district can refuse them enrollment is because all of their schools are full at that grade level.

However, after the January 15 deadline (unless the district is part of an inter-district integration plan), the only way a student can transfer to another school district for the next school year (or in the middle of the current school year) is if both the district in which the student resides and the district in which he wishes to enroll sign a tuition agreement. (Essentially, each district has the ability to say no in this case.) (Hat tip to the Partnership for Choice in Education)

Remember, the context in which the regulations are being applied is families concerned about the safety of their children.