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Gilroy
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December 7, 2022

Guest View: Open up schools to parents

I am very concerned by the Gilroy Unified School District’s decision to bar parents from the elementary campuses before and after school. This decision greatly diminishes the opportunity to build relationships within the school and is detrimental to building a positive school community. Good relationships and a positive school community are important factors in student success. Moreover, this decision does nothing to keep students safer.

It is Monday morning. The campus is abuzz with children playing and releasing energy before having to sit and attend to instruction. Parents supervise and chat with each other. Important notes are posted outside my classroom. At the bell, there are two lines with families standing all around. I make announcements, answer questions and begin instruction as we enter the room. The parents learn and see their children interact at school. Some parents stay to volunteer, others talk as they exit. 

In the afternoon, I meet the waiting parents. I make announcements. Families enter. Some talk with me, others check out books from the class library. Some students go out to play while parents supervise and socialize. Older siblings run in to meet their families. Some are prior students, so we reconnect. Many just gather their things, smile and say goodbye. 

This kind of warm welcoming environment defines a positive school community, where all stakeholders work together toward student success and safety. We can have this again, if we choose to.

Today, the reality is much different. It is Monday morning. The parking lot is abuzz with car motors. Each in their own vehicle, the families do not interact. Those that walk are stopped at a guarded gate. Children and mothers say their goodbyes before students are sanitized, enter the campus and ushered to lunch tables. Six hundred students, gathered together in a small area bound by buildings, are loud and lively. A few parents linger by the fence gazing toward the din. Most families are gone with little interaction. The students cannot play. There is no option for movement. They must sit. They can eat breakfast and talk until the bell. Some sit for 35 minutes. Not all students can contain their energy. There are few adults to supervise. 

I arrive at the bell. I must yell to be heard over the noise. It takes time to get my students in line.  Classes navigate each other on their way to their classrooms. Parents who have remained, watch through the bars that keep them out. Last waves are given as they catch glimpses of their children passing between buildings. The students enter the classroom and unpack. The process takes up valuable time. 

In the afternoon, students line up and are led to various gates at the perimeter of the campus. Some families walk, most drive, sitting in long lines of traffic that snake through the school parking lots and spill into the streets. Students wait for their names to be called over often-inaudible bullhorns. Until then, they must sit and wait. There is no playing and very little interaction between the home and the school. It is loud and lively, but very sad at the same time. The school climate is diminished.

Both scenarios have been realities for my students and me. Only one supports a positive school community. Research has shown that a positive school climate and positive relationships between the school and the home are important factors in student success. Problems are much easier to solve where a positive relationship already exists. Relationships take time. They fully develop through small daily interactions over long periods. They cannot be built through emails and notes home. They require regular face-to-face interactions. For many parents, drop-off and pick-up are the only regular interactions they have with the school.

The district argues that this closed-campus policy is necessary for student safety. However, this policy actually makes our students more vulnerable. The gates are open for students to enter and exit the campus regardless of the policy. An intruder could breach the gates in the same manner with either policy. The difference is that the current policy relies on a few yard duties to protect hundreds of students gathered in the same location. They are a much easier target. A policy that allows parents on campus spreads students out and puts many additional adults on campus. The additional parents greatly increase the chances of stopping an intruder.

Why is the district barring parents? This decision is having detrimental effects. Open up our schools to parents to keep our students safer and so that good relationships and a positive school community can develop once again. Please speak up for relationships, school community and student safety.

Russell Taranto is a TK teacher at El Roble Elementary School.

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