Thursday, May 23, 2013

Preschool Problems

Something happened today at my son's preschool that didn't sit well with me, and it's still not settling this evening, almost 12 hours later.

A few weeks ago we received a flyer in Ferg's backpack inviting our family to a preschool picnic after class one day.  All the students were invited to go to the local park with their parent(s), have an outdoor meal, and then play on the playground.  The Mrs. determined to take the day off from work so we could all attend.  Before the event, she told me to ask the teachers if siblings were allowed to come to the picnic too, in which case we would bring Hanburger too if it was OK.

The next time I picked up Ferg from class, I asked his lead teacher if it was OK that Hannah come to the picnic.  She looked at me with a blank stare, as though she had no idea what I was talking about.  "Uh, the picnic?" I said.  "We received a flyer in Jamie's backpack saying that there was a picnic scheduled for this Thursday."

"Oh!" she said, as though the light finally clicked on in her head.  "That's not a school function.  One of the mom's from the class decided to schedule a picnic with the kids, so she sent home the flyer."

"Oh, OK," said I, knowing then that Hannah could go to the picnic too.

Now cut to a week or so ago.  For the past few years my family has hosted a Backyard Bible Club (ByBC) in our home for a week in the summer.  We try to invite as many neighborhood kids as we can to hang out at our house, do some fun stuff, and learn about Jesus.  This year, since Jamie was in preschool, we decided it might be good for him to take some ByBC invitations to school and pass them out to his friends.

This, we thought, would be OK since something of a precedent was set by the mom sending home flyers for the picnic.  But we knew that it would most likely be inappropriate to ask the teachers to insert an invitation into each child's backpack.  So we made sure to stress with the Ferguson that he should pass out the invitations himself to his friends.  We were not asking the school to pass them out - he should pass them out himself.  That way, even though it is a religious event sponsored by a church, the school would not be endorsing it, and it would be completely student-led and initiated.

We planned for Jamie to pass the invitations out earlier this week, but the day he was going to do it he forgot the invitations in the car.  So we had to wait until today, Thursday, which also happens to be his last day of school for the year.  This morning, as I dropped Jamie off at school and put his backpack in his locker, I made sure to point out to him that the invitations were in there, and that when class was over he should pull them out and give them to his friends.  He was all set to do it, and he was excited to do it.

At the time for pickup, I was standing outside the classroom doors, waiting for Jamie to be excused.  The way they excuse the kids from class is to get them all ready (coats on, backpacks on, etc.) and then call them out one by one when their parents arrive to receive them.  I was standing outside the room, looking at all the kids through the window in the doors.  Then I saw Jamie with his backpack.  He looked inside and picked out the invitations, holding them up for one of his co-teachers to see.  He handed them to her, and she looked them, and then handed them off to the lead teacher.  The lead teacher then looked at the invitations, and proceeded to make a phone call to someone, presumably regarding the invitations that Jamie had produced.  After a few second call, the lead teacher handed the invitations back to the co-teacher, who proceeded to come out of the classroom and gave the invitations to me, saying, "He can't pass these out in the classroom, but he can pass them out when the kids have left class."

This was strange, I thought.  Why?  What's the difference?  "Oh well," I thought, "no reason to make a big deal out of it.  I'm sure they will let Jamie out first so he can stand by the door and hand the invitations out to the other kids as they exit the room."

But this was not the case.  Jamie was not the first to be excused.  Nor was he the second, or third, or fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh.  I didn't keep an exact count, but there were at least seven kids to leave the room before him.  By the time he got out of the room and I gave the invitations to him, more than half of the kids in the class had left.

But the bigger problem was that, by this time, he had become so frazzled by all of the drama surrounding the invitations, that he had completely lost all of his gumption for handing them out.  In fact, he refused to do so.  He wanted me to hand them out.

By this time, I was starting to get perturbed - not at Jamie, but at how the whole situation was unfolding.  Here was a kid who was excited to invite his friends to his Backyard Bible Club - of his own volition - and he was being thwarted and discouraged from doing so at every turn.  By the time we left, I was an unhappy pappy.

As I have reflected on the situation throughout the day, I have some questions regarding the situation.

First, was I wrong to assume that my child could independently hand out invitations to something at his house?  I know that some school districts don't allow any children to distribute any literature for any event or reason.  This could clearly not be the case at our school, though, since we were invited to a picnic by a mom from the class.  And more than that, that invitation came in our child's take-home folder.  Why is it OK to invite kids to a picnic via the take-home folder, but it's not OK for a kid to independently (not via the take-home folder) give out invitations to a Backyard Bible Club?  I would submit to you it is that the invitations Jamie was handing out contained four peculiar words: "Bible," "Jesus Christ," and "God."

Second, who did the lead teacher call?  And why did she feel the need to consult the higher ups?  I don't know.  I'd like to assume the best in this situation, but that's getting harder to do the more I think about how all this went down.

Third, why is it OK for Jamie to hand out the invitations outside the classroom but not inside, as the co-teacher told me?  How does a change of 10 feet make it permissible to invite people to a private religious function?

Fourth, how does a father explain this to his child?  This is a particularly tough situation, because Jamie really wanted to pass out the invitations, and he is wondering why his marvelous teachers (really, they are great) wouldn't let him pass out his invitations.  It's a sticky wicket that I'm still working through.  I'm sure we'll end up talking about it for a couple more days.

It would appear that my experience was not peculiar, as a quick internet search reveals several news stories and forums that talk about this same issue.  Take this one, for example, and be sure to read the comments.  It would seem that the majority of those commenting believe that as long as a religious flyer is distributed by the student and not by the school then there's no issue.  Hence the reason we told Jamie that he should be the one distributing the invitations and not giving them to his teachers to stuff into backpacks.

But it was not to be for us.  What a shame.  I feel bad for my son.

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