What to do for your children when things go wrong at school

THE WASHINGTON POSTSeptember 28, 2013 

MCT

Every year when school starts, many parents discover that their child’s education is not running as smoothly as they would like. Problems can be small, such as a missing vaccination record. Or they can be large, such as a delayed shipment of textbooks to a classroom.

What should you do? Usually, a call or an email to the school office will produce the information needed to rectify the situation, or at least the contact information of someone who can help. But what if that doesn’t work?

Here are several complaints that I have heard from parents, along with the recommendations of school communication experts on what to do when you think something is wrong.

1. ANOTHER CHILD HAS BEEN PICKING ON YOUR CHILD

This is a ticklish situation that requires patience and care about not jumping to conclusions. Set up an appointment to speak to the school’s principal or, if your child is in high school, the assistant principal for that grade level.

Explain to the principal the situation as explained to you by your child, acknowledging that you might not have the whole story but want the principal to know that your child has been upset by the incident and ongoing incidents. The principal will investigate and might contact parents of both children involved, and possibly set up a meeting to resolve the situation.

A conscientious principal will follow up with you and your child to make sure the problem has not recurred.

2. A TEACHER HAS BEEN PICKING ON YOUR CHILD

What some teachers consider to be motivating words might seem abusive to parents. Consider talking with the teacher first. Then, depending on response, see the principal or request to see both.

This is also an instance when parents might check with other parents whose children have had that teacher to see whether they had similar experiences.

3. YOUR CHILD’S COUNSELOR IS RECOMMENDING COURSES THAT SEEM TO TOO HARD OR TOO EASY

As with nearly every complaint about a school, it is best to contact the principal, but if there is a teacher who knows your child, you might call them first. A professional educator with detailed knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses is a priceless ally in any dispute. But before you do anything, you should talk to the counselor to make sure you have an accurate account of what she is recommending and why.

4. YOUR CHILD CAN’T HANDLE HIGHER-LEVEL MATH BUT HAS BEEN PLACED IN GEOMETRY

Parents should contact the teacher to get a better sense of the changes being made and how their children can be helped. Schools usually have extra help available, if a student needs it.

5. YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER SEEMS INCOMPETENT

One parent writes: “Our son’s second-grade teacher sent home an assignment in which she misspelled two words. We did not discuss this with the principal, as we should have, but instead transferred our kid to a private school.”

Principals generally take the appropriate actions to assess and evaluate a teacher’s ability and performance. But occasionally principals take the teacher’s side so as not to create the impression they would not fight for their staff. At that point, a parent’s best option is to talk to other parents and join those who have similar complaints in an appeal to the school district superintendent or the local school board member.

6. YOU THINK YOUR CHILD IS GIFTED, BUT HE DID NOT SCORE HIGH ENOUGH ON THE TEST

Most school systems have appeals processes. Some consider other sources of information when considering a child for gifted services. Student work samples, projects and observations can serve as valuable pieces of evidence. A parent can usually either request a retest or ask for a meeting at the school to share additional evidence of giftedness.

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