Robert Maranto asks "why are public schools closed to the public?", but he fails to mention what is, to me, a key consideration.

This occurred to me when, like any good parent, I called the principal's office at my local public elementary school to check it out before sending my son. Alas, despite spending $20,000 per child, our school had trouble returning three phone messages left during normal business hours. On my fourth try I reached a live person, and had a brief conversation:

"Hi, I'm Bob Maranto. I'm a parent who lives in [your school's] attendance zone. My son will be old enough for kindergarten next fall. He's actually right on the edge, so he could go next fall or the following fall, and I was wondering if I could come visit the school sometime."

"We don't have any visiting this year," the administrator replied. "We're doing construction and a lot of things are going on."

"Could I watch a class in session?"

"No, even when there's no construction you could not watch a class."

"Well, could I meet my son's teacher?"

"No, the teachers are busy teaching all day and then they go home."

As we used to say when I was in government, this is customer service worthy of the Internal Revenue Service. It also corresponds to playground gossip about this school, which has test scores lower than nearby schools.

A mere five months and 22 phone calls, faxes, and e-mails later--to the superintendent, school board, principal, and various other "public servants"--I was allowed to visit my son's likely school. Someday, I hope to watch a class.

But must it be so hard? Why not open public schools to the public?

Although I'm sure parents can be difficult to deal with at times, my guess is that the main reason the public isn't allowed to wander around inside schools is because of safety concerns. Would Mr. Maranto want to send his son to a school that was open to any member of the public who happned to want to drop by? I doubt it. Although it should certainly be possible to arrange a visit for the parent of a prospective student, I'm not at all surprised that the principal didn't want a strange man meandering through his halls.

We deal with a similar situation with our kids at church. For safety reason we do our best to keep non-approved adults out of the areas where we run our children's programs, including parents. It's not that we have anything to hide, it's that we think it's wise to keep strange adults away from our kids. We take safety and security very serious, and soon we'll even be running background checks on all our workers before they're allowed to work with children. We're always happy to show the parents what we're doing, but we escort them (and any visiting adults) rather than just let them wander around alone. When someone complains (and some do) we just remind them that the measures are in place to protect their child.



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