Some doors don’t need to be open

Posted Feb. 02, 2009, at 8:24 p.m.

I’m not a big fan of closed doors.

Perhaps it’s the reporter in me or just an inherent belief that most problems are only truly addressed when the bright light of public scrutiny shines upon them.

Bad things can go on behind closed doors, which is one reason I’m a big fan of the whole open kitchen concept in restaurants. I once earned a living waiting on tables.

I live in a big, old house with wooden doors and worn latches. Until a recent addition was completed, there was not one interior door that could not be opened with the nudge of a child’s elbow or the nose of an insistent mutt. Even the bathroom door does not lock, and we all just accept that if the bathroom door is closed it is for good reason. None of us really cares to know what’s going on on the other side, except for the dog of course.

So the headline last week that Bangor planned on keeping its “closed-door school policy” grabbed my attention.

In case you missed it, Bangor school committee member Mary Budd, who also is a mom, was surprised to learn that she was not allowed to attend and observe her child’s classroom instruction.

She brought the matter to the school board which discussed the matter at length and prompted school Superintendent Betsy Webb to research the policy.

Webb said, “It’s a policy that’s been in place for a while, but as a new superintendent, it was good for me to reflect on this policy and look at it from angles to see if it still makes sense.”

Score one for Bangor’s new and apparently open-minded superintendent.

Webb spoke to law enforcement about safety concerns. She spoke to an attorney about legal ramifications and she researched similar policies at school departments across the state and country.

She prepared a lengthy memo, distributed it to school committee members and posted it on the school’s Web site for public viewing.

She determined that “for reasons of security and safety of students and staff, confidentiality, preservation of academic time, nondiscrimination, labor relations and the belief that children’s education is the business of the school system and the parents of the individual child, we must not create drop-in access to Bangor schools.”

It must be noted that Budd also is not an advocate of “open-access” to our schools. She understands the inherent problems with such a policy. She simply is curious as to why a parent could not consult with a teacher and make an appointment to sit in and observe a classroom.

Of course the story on the issue prompted an out-pouring of insults and accusations on the BDN Web site from those convinced that Webb is covering for an apparent multitude of incompetent teachers within her school system.

JWBooth suggested it was “time to check the financials and see what Webb is trying to hide there.”

“We pay their salaries, what nerve they have excluding parent sit ins. Afraid we’re going to find out how incompetent the teachers are?” Richard37 wrote.

You just got to love that “we pay their salaries so they answer to us” argument.

Of course it’s true. That’s why we elect school committee members and city council members and state representatives. It’s a representative form of government.

Using Richard37’s philosophy, you could argue that we be allowed to sit in on police interrogations. After all, we pay their salaries as well and how better to ensure that they are conducting those interviews properly.

And why can’t we hang around in the corridors of our county jails and state prisons at will? We pay for those buildings, and we pay the guards’ salaries.

But think for a minute about schools allowing an adult you don’t know to monitor your child’s classroom. Would you need to be a parent to have access or could any taxpayer monitor a class? What kind of background checks would need to be conducted on classroom visitors? What criteria would be used to deny a request?

A frightening thought if you ask me and something Budd would never advocate for.

Of course every parent has concerns with teacher quality. All school systems need to ensure that they have policies in place to deal swiftly and effectively with those concerns. Taxpayers do have the right to expect competent classroom instruction by teachers and should not just expect it but demand it.

Webb’s response to Budd’s concern was thoughtful, thorough and respectful, not only to the committee member who raised it, but to all Bangor parents and taxpayers.

Budd brought forth a very legitimate question not because she necessarily questioned her child’s teacher’s competency, but simply because she questioned the policy that forbade her sitting in on a class.

But the real deal is that there are things that go on in schools, whether it’s a child’s behavior or learning curve, that truly should be the business of teachers, staff and that child’s parents.

Even parent volunteers in Bangor must now undergo some training and sign an agreement of confidentiality because, believe it or not, there have been instances of some of those very good-hearted people gossiping about another student’s behavior with other parents.

Some teachers forgo using volunteers for that very reason.

The bottom line is you are not likely to have access to your kids’ classroom, but it appears that Webb is keeping the door open for discussion when it comes to school policy. Budd appreciates Webb’s willingness to listen and understands that the issue has been put to rest after a thorough examination.

When you think about it, some doors are better left closed.

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