Rhode Island · School Talk

Don’t Believe Union Leaders When They Say Student Safety is Their Priority—It Isn’t.

The teachers’ unions in Rhode Island are masters of manipulation and sometimes their default is to cite student safety as their top priority. The school committee in East Greenwich is contemplating a policy that would “enable parents to enter the classroom to make formal observations of their child in the learning environment.”

Union reps are not having it.

School committee vice-chair, Lori McEwen, also expressed concerns safety concerns about the policy when she posed the hypothetical scenario that “a principal is called away and there is a fire.”

Principals are often not present at sporting events or for most after-school activities that involve parents and other outside adults—why is fire suddenly an issue in the context of a parent observing a class?

And it is laughable—except it’s not funny— that union reps would even raise the concern of safety less than a year after their union leadership came out publicly to oppose a bill that would criminalize sex between teachers and their students. Seriously, are we really supposed to believe that student safety is driving their concerns or objections to this policy?

There are certainly details that matter when a policy around parent observation is on the table—confidentiality around what the parent observes of other students during the class is obviously paramount.

But these comments from union reps and even the vice-chair of the school committee seem a bit dismissive of the parents whose tax dollars fund everything that takes place in the district’s schools— parents should feel welcome to sit in on a class, not shut out because of a potential fire or suspicion that they pose a danger.

And federal law also gives parents the right to observe their child’s classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Owasso v. Falvo reiterated that public school students have no expectation of privacy.

Write a smart policy and pass it. If unforeseen issues arise, amend the policy. But my God, don’t tell parents they can’t observe their children’s classroom.

*This piece has been updated to add the federal law that gives parents the right to observe in their children’s classrooms.

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