State-mandated activity forms overwhelm teachers, students

Freshmen Adriah Mossiah and Paulette Pozo read through the form to participate in First Priority.
Freshmen Adriah Mossiah and Paulette Pozo read through the form to participate in First Priority.
Ella Dorfman

When math teacher Debra Jerdon heard about the new student participation forms for clubs, events and activities last Friday, she wondered how it would affect students coming to ask for help. The State Board of Education approved 6A-10.089 School-Sponsored Events and Activities on June 20 to “protect the fundamental rights of parents by ensuring that children are not exposed to inappropriate school-sponsored events and activities.”

 Assistant Principal Catherine Halbuer spearheaded the form-distribution process when she was informed of them Aug. 16 and forms began to be distributed Tuesday. 

“Under the new state rule, parents have the right to choose what their students participate in at school,” Halbuer said. “So you kind of think of it like when you sign up for your classes, your parents have to sign your course request form. The new state rule says parents have the right to know which clubs their children are participating in at school or which school activities they’re participating in. They can give permission, they can give limited permission or different things like that.”

Principal Rick Fleming said the implementation of these forms differs from the past where there normally would be longer time to approve and revise bills for the districts. 

“I have been doing this for 37 years, but it changed to where it is now: They legislate from February to May, they come up with legislation, then they send it to the districts in May and June,” Fleming said. “The districts frantically tried to extrapolate the technical knowledge of what was the intent of this law and what it looks like.”

Jerdon said she is accepting signed forms for the Computer Science Club she hosts, but she remains unsure about extra help for in-class students. 

“The fact that people have to get a form to come in and ask for help in math when they’re in my math class, seemed a little stupid,” she said. “The club form, I’m OK with it. I’ve been teaching for a long time, so I try to just do my best to follow what they ask me to do and not get too worked up over it.”

Halbuer said that because extra help is out of class, parents need to sign the forms for that as well. 

“The way the language was written [was confusing, so] a lot of the principals asked specifically about extra help,” Halbuer said. ‘We were told we needed those and then we got a little bit more clarification.”

Club sponsors are required to keep the forms on file in their rooms, according to Halbuer. Jerdon said she is navigating how to distribute forms for the club, which has not started yet. Students are not permitted to attend club meetings until their forms are turned in.

“I think there are a lot of unintended consequences to the state laws that were written that they didn’t see farther in advance,” Jerdon said. “It seems like extra work, because I doubt there’s any parent that would be upset that there’s a student wanting to be part of a computer science club.”

Halbuer said she understands there may be clubs that parents do not want their child to join.

“It might be something like ‘I want you to wait to do that till you get to high school,’ or ‘you need to focus on your grades,’” Halbuer said. “Or it might not be something that is in the family’s belief system for them the child to participate in.

Fleming said he is “all about parents’ rights.”

“I have four adult children who were in school, and I like to know what they were doing,” Fleming said. “But those are conversations we would have at home as a family. Now to do [forms] I think is a bit cumbersome, but I understand the intent of the law.”

Athletes do not need the forms for athletic events because they have athletic packets.

“Co-curricular activities like band, chorus and orchestra are required to be in performances but they require forms because they don’t have that athletic packet,” Halbuer said. 

Fleming suggested to Brevard Public Schools to have one form with every school activity, event and club. He said the school board attorney said that wouldn’t work, calling such a construct “passive authorization.”

“I could conceivably have a hundred forms on the same student, a form for you to do your science research to meet with an adviser, a form for your parents to sign about you going to science fair, a form for you to go to the award ceremony and a form for you,” Fleming said.

Jerdon reserves Power Hour help time for students. This week, she had to turn down a student wanting to practice for a test because of the form policy.

“I tell students that if they want help at any other time, they’re welcome to stop by and see if I’m here,” Jerdon said. “I wasn’t sure if I was required to follow [the forms] immediately or if there was a grace period, but the student just chose to not risk anything. I was hesitant about it.”

Jerdon called the new forms counterproductive.

“I’m spending so much time creating the form, copying the form, remembering to pass out the form and now remembering to ask for the form,” she said. “I’m just now getting ready to print out some blank class lists and then I’m going to have to record who’s given me the form. That’s just for tutoring in my subject area, which no parent is against.”

Halbuer said her initial reaction was concern for students, parents and teachers.

“They are going to be inundated with paperwork,” Halbuer said. “It’s also something that was beyond my control because it was actually put into law, so it has to be implemented. So this is something I have to do, it’s not something that I can choose to do.”

Jerdon said time spent preparing forms is “discouraging” to teachers.

“We had that faculty meeting that was called at the last minute, because we already discussed all the procedures for the school year,” Jerdon said. “During our pre-planning meetings, we had tons of meetings. They had to create this extra meeting that we had to go to and they’re giving us and the administrators the latest information that they were given. A lot of things [seemed undecided.]”

Fleming said he worries the forms influence the academic and enrichment side of schools.

“When you guys come to school here, you’re not just your parents’ kids, you’re my kids,” he said. “I think something’s going to be missed as far as the relationships between employees, whether they’re teachers, administrators or even custodians. Now it just seems that [politics] has put a lot of tension in K through 12 education, and it’s putting a lot of people in intense situations. If a teacher teaching is worried about their job or worried about this, it’s going to impact instruction and some of the rich discussions that occur.”

 

 

 

 

More to Discover