No, Ma’am, You May Not Chaperone Your Son’s Field Trip Without a Background Check

Readers — It is time to update the term “Kafka-esque,” which seems to suggest bureaucratic madness belonged to another time and continent. That madness is alive and well, even in Dallas, TX, as you’re about to read.  This piece comes from a Facebook post by my speaking engagement agent, Judy Safern at Leading Thinkers. – L. 

I was delighted when my son’s fifth grade teacher asked me if I would accompany their class downtown on a field trip to the art museum. My son was, too. The night before the trip he texted me: “Goodnight!! I love you!! I can’t wait to go to sleep so I can wake up and we can go to the museum!!”

That morning I got to the school, but first had to buzz for entry. Not that Lorena, the secretary couldn’t SEE me through the glass doors and doesn’t recognize me after a year of buzzing me in when I came to  attend concerts, meet with teachers, volunteer in the library…

“Hi Ms. Lorena!” I smiled and waved after she buzzed to ask “Who is it?” “Judy Safern, here for the field trip!”

Bzzzzz. I’m IN!

Then, on to the office to a) sign their Visitor log with the date, time, name of the child I am visiting and reason for my visit, and b) log into the computer and register my presence online and print out a badge with my photo.

But, uh oh!  “This system does not recognize that name.”

Hmmm. Maybe I’m in there as “Judy” not “Judith” — though, of course I am in there as “Judith” because that’s how my driver’s license identifies me and the school has a copy of my driver’s license. And my water bill. And my lease. And my divorce agreement. They know everything about me.

“Judith Safern,” I typed again.

Nope.

“Gosh, Lorena,” I said, more flustered than irritated. “What’s going on??”

Other parents were jostling to sign in. “You must not be in there,” she said. “Let me see your driver’s license.”

Daaaaaa’yum. (That’s “damn” with a North Texas dipthong.) Damn. Ms. Lorena is p.o.’d at me.

I handed it over.

She was PISSED. I mean really pissed. She did not have time for this nonsense, no way, no how.

She studied my government ID, looked at me. Yep. Still me. The me she’s known all year. Then she typed my name into HER computer. Looked up at me again. “You’re not in here. You must not have done your background check.”

“Yes, I have…” I said. “Of course I have…”

“Well,” she said with no smile, no irony, “You’re not in here.”

“Would you please check the paper files?” I asked. “I KNOW I’m in the system!”

“No, MA’AM,” she said.

Now, let me explain the use of “ma’am” here for a moment. You see, in Texas, “ma’am” is not an innocent term. It’s loaded. I mean LOADED with meaning and nuance. Loaded like your daddy’s Colt 45 loaded.

When and if one says “ma’am,” the place it appears in the sentence  and the tone in which it is pronounced make ALL the difference in the world.

THIS use of “ma’am” was a dis.

“This is the DISTRICT system,” Lorena said slowly, hand on her screen. “You need to be in HERE to go on the field trip. You must not have submitted your background check or you’d be in here.”

“But I AM in there,” I said. “And I have completed the background check and I have volunteered at this campus. I was just here last week shelving library books. The system recognized me then, I had a printed badge. Look, we can check the log book and find that badge.”

“Oh, you can’t use that badge TODAY!!!,” she said with great alarm.

“No, no, of course not,” I assured her. ” I just mean, we can VERIFY that I’m in the system by locating that — or any of the dozens of other sticker badges — in the log book.”

Because, of course, one can’t simply leave this school after visiting the building, one must surrender one’s badge and sign out. As a rule follower, I have always pasted my badge in the log book at the conclusion of each visit.

Parents were jostling for the logbook. Others were in line to print their badges. I was gently pushed aside.

This poor secretary was overwhelmed. Too much going on at her desk. I spied the office manager a few feet away and sought eye contact. Fail.

“May I please speak to your supervisor?” I asked the secretary.

“Good MORNING, Ms. Safern!” the school counselor greeted me with a shoulder pat as she breezed past, arms loaded with files, en route to a meeting.

“She’s busy right now,” the secretary.

“I understand that,” said I, “but the bus will be here soon and I am supposed to help chaperone this field trip so we need to sort this out. Can I please speak to someone who is willing to help?”

She glared at me.

“I’m sure someone can just CALL the district and verify my background check…I was in the system last week,” I said as mildly as possible.

“Ma’am,” she said.

Oh, f***.  REALLY? Really, Lorena? You’re gonna  “ma’am” me NOW? We don’t have TIME for Texas Woman Smackdown, the kids want to go see some ART!!!!!!

“Ma’am,” she said “I don’t know WHY you’re not in our system now but if you’re not in the District system on the DAY of the field trip you can’t go.”

The parents who had observed all of this were standing back now. Everyone else had badges.

Mind you, all the f-talk was in my head. I had been calm, cool and collected through the whole thing. But still I was suspect, so none of them spoke up.

They were prepared to send a busload of students with too few chaperones rather than risk the chance that a parent volunteer whose paperwork they could not find might be a pervert.

“How about if you just call?” I asked. “I will go home. And if you can reach someone to verify my clear background and y’all want me to come help today, just call me, I’ll either zip back over here to help chaperone on the bus or I can just meet them downtown.”

“What’s your number?” she asked.

“You HAVE my number,” I said. “It’s all over your filing cabinet and in several different computer screens.”

“Write it down for me, ” she said. “I don’t have time to look it up.”

(Something about this part of the exchange felt as if she was TESTING me to see if I, the evil shapeshifter who had somehow invaded the face and form of Judy Safern, in fact KNEW the number???)

Rule follower that I am, I wrote it down…

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said with a smile as I left. “I appreciate your help and I’ll be waiting to hear from you!”

Then I did what anyone with my national media contacts WOULD do.

The Today Show? The New York Times? The Huffington Post?

I speed dialed Lenore Skenazy as I walked to my car.

“Worst-first thinking,” she said. “That’s what just happened. Without official paperwork they immediately leapt to the worst case scenario, first: that you COULD be a pervert. What would happen if they let you go, even without being able to find you in the district system? Of course, with all those teachers, volunteers, museum guards and docents around, you might not actually have had an opportunity to RAPE any of the kids today but, who knows, you might still groom someone.”

We spoke for about ten minutes. Lenore let me vent. She did a great riff on how just-following-orders, Nazi-complicit the whole thing is: “Well, sure, they’re good NEIGHBORS and they seem like fine people, but the law says that they must be marched out of town and shot, so what can I do?”

Lenore is not just a champion for giving kids more independence and Free-Range, she’s an advocate for more common sense in all dealings.

“The fear factor in public schools in some states is out of control,” she said. “It’s counter-productive.”

It was a fascinating, fun, reassuring conversation, but as we were speaking, my other line rang.

“Hang on, Lenore! It’s THEM!”

“Ma’am?” I heard Lorena say in a conciliatory voice. “I don’t know WHY but for some reason your name was just not associated with our school today, but you ARE in the system and we DID find your clearance so you can come on the field trip.”

Which I did.

But, um, I think we need to re-evaluate the policies and procedures here. Maybe not go with “worst-first thinking” — maybe go with common sense, or even the odds? Rules ARE important. I appreciate them. I follow them.  But rules are RULES.

They are not REALITY. –  Judy Safern

Welcome, kids, teachers and pre-screened, government-approved parents!

73 Responses to No, Ma’am, You May Not Chaperone Your Son’s Field Trip Without a Background Check

  1. Cee June 5, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    I refuse to mess with it. It’s unpaid labor to begin with, and they want me to jump thru eleventy hoops for the privilege AND get snotty into the bargain? Call me when you start paying. Ugh Or, gosh, at least stop being horrible.

    lip service about how much they value parental involvement is just that.

  2. Steve S June 5, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    I know that a lot of schools are going overboard with this stuff. I had thought my daughter’s school was one of the better ones, but some time in the past two weeks they started locking the doors and requiring that people be “buzzed in.” They still haven’t jumped on the background check bandwagon.

    Where is this coming from? Given that some schools do these things and some school do not (even within a county), I don’t think it is part of any kind of safety mandate from the state. Are administrators being told by their own professional orgs.? Are lawyers/risk management telling them to do this to avoid litigation?

  3. Orange Roughy June 5, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    School office employees are so dang uptight. Yesterday my 5 yr old (not enrolled till next year) darted into the campus when I was conducting business in the school office. Wait wait what’s he doing he can’t go in there. Panic was the tone. I was all flip and said, ok I will fetch him calm down. I quickly whisked away my 5 yr old and made a scene, saying he was dangerous and everything was ok I apprehended him.

  4. Edward Wiest June 5, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Sadly, nothing new. While most of our school’s field trips (school outside of Boston) are in June, all parent volunteers as a practical matter must obtain background checks (good for one year) at the _start_ of the school year (I presume so the school office can file the requests in bulk) . Even with the delays inherent in the Massachusetts paper based criminal records system, it seems crazy that to volunteer for a spring field trip or Junior Achievement teacher slot that one has to prepare six months ahead of time.

  5. DJ June 5, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Background checks for being in the classroom are overkill, but for chaperoning a field trip, I consider them absolutely necessary.

    On a field trip, for a teacher to keep up with the entire class, they must be lock-step in line, all doing the same thing at the same time. That’s boring and doesn’t contribute to learning. So, when they have parents/chaperones, they break the class into small groups and a parent/chaperone is in charge of each group, to wander within the parameters of the venue at will, etc. The teacher floats around to the different groups or takes a group of challenging students that they wouldn’t burden a volunteer with. If they are the lead teacher or team coordinator, they serve as the point person with the venue.

    The parent/chaperone is also responsible for taking the kids to the bathroom, etc. So, in a large museum, at the zoo, etc, there is ripe opportunity for unseen abuse.

    No, a background check won’t prevent someone from abusing for the first time (or keep out someone who hasn’t been caught), but they will prevent a known abuser from having the opportunity to do it again.

    I think background checks can be useful when properly applied. You shouldn’t be the PTA treasurer if you have been caught embezzling funds. You shouldn’t drive on a Scout trip if you have a DWI on your record. You shouldn’t be in charge of a group of children on your own if you have been convicted of pedophilia.

    Things can get messed up in computer systems. If it’s that important for me to go, I verify everything (and I mean everything) the day or two before.

    First thing in the morning in the school office is crazy enough as it is. Adding in final field trip issues and even the most patient and helpful secretary will fall back to absolutes.

    And yes, they can look you up in the computer system, but that does take longer. If you want a quick response, write your number down on a sticky note — it also puts it right in front of the secretary to remind her to deal with the issue.

    I’m impressed that she followed up on the issue, fixed it, and called you. A lazy or deliberately provocative person wouldn’t have done that. Be sure to thank her for taking those extra steps.

  6. Jennie Murphy June 5, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    There is a part of me that feels terribly sorry for the school personnel that have been trained, ad nauseum, to accept no deviations from The Rules. I had an experience with this a while back when I went to pick my son up in the carpool. The Rule was that I needed to be pulled up to a cone at the front of the line to pick him up. When I arrived, his class was already out and waiting before all the others, but there were a couple of cars in front of me waiting for students that would be out in another 10 minutes. A teacher recognized me as his mother, but when I asked if he could come get in, she told me no, because, even though I was lined up at the curb, I was not up all the way up to the cones. He was literally 2 cars away. He could see me, I could see him, but neither of us was allowed to get out of line and get on with our day. So we waited. 10 minutes later the curb was mobbed with kids, the cars in front of me moved on, and I pulled up to the a cone where amidst the chaos of the now hundreds of kids my son was located and brought to my car. The next day, the teacher apologized to me, explaining that she simply knee-jerked. The Rule had been so hammered in and ingrained, that she hadn’t been able to see any other sensible option as viable. Thought, vs reaction, never even entered the scenario. Such is bureaucracy.

  7. meg June 5, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Its a miracle we all survived our childhoods with chaperones, volunteers, etc who were never back ground checked!!! Seriously, why assume parents going on a field trip with THEIR OWN KID and his/her classmates are going to do something to a child. Is there even one case, one case of this happening. Seriously, is there? Can anyone anywhere find a case of a parent chaperoning a field trip molesting a kid?

  8. Warren June 5, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Well teachers can go on strike, why don’t the parents do the same thing. Stop volunteering, helping and donating, untill the school system comes back to reality.

    If you want to go to the museum with your kids class, just go to the museum, pay your admission, and meet your kid. If you paid to be in there, the school cannot tell you to leave. And the school cannot ban you from interacting with your kid. Just bypass the system.

  9. Puzzled June 5, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    It’s not evil that I worry about, nor is it purposeful tyranny. It’s the DJs of the world, eager to justify depravity and tell us why stupid fears are helpful.

  10. Joanne June 5, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    DJ, the typical chaperone on field trips is a PARENT of a kid in school. Random people who are unattached to a school would not be a field trip chaperone. If that PARENT wanted to abuse your kid, there’d be ample opportunity completely unrelated to a field trip where they’re still surrounded by a small groups of kids. It isn’t like they’re going to have a pedophilic oragy with 4 or 5 kids all at the museum. And a museum bathroom while one or more groups of children are on a field trip isn’t really going to be that private a place. And if that parent is a pedophile, probably abusing his/her own kid first since they’ve got easy and regular access rather than molest a strange kid on a field trip.

  11. marie June 5, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    Can anyone anywhere find a case of a parent chaperoning a field trip molesting a kid?

    How about it, DJ? Do you know of any?

    You shouldn’t be in charge of a group of children on your own if you have been convicted of pedophilia.

    Pedophilia is not a crime. It is a medical diagnosis and–yes, this is true–it doesn’t apply to every sex offender. It doesn’t even apply to every sex offender whose victim is a child.

    Misuse of the word is common, however. Your comment is a prime example of using the word to scare your audience. You seem to be a person who loves rules and precision so maybe you should try being more precise when you use words.

    You could write the definition down on a sticky note for yourself.

  12. Emily June 5, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    >>I refuse to mess with it. It’s unpaid labor to begin with, and they want me to jump thru eleventy hoops for the privilege AND get snotty into the bargain? Call me when you start paying. Ugh Or, gosh, at least stop being horrible.<<

    This, exactly. I don't have kids, but this is the reason why I decided not to continue volunteering with the Girl Guides after I had to leave Australia and return (hopefully temporarily) to Canada. As for Ms. Safern's situation, the way she wrote the story was hilarious, but heartbreaking. After an exchange like that, though, I probably would have bailed on the field trip (and told Kiddo why), and then promised to make it up to him later, with a trip to the go-kart track/roller skating rink/water park/whatever.

  13. pentamom June 5, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    I’m never this confrontational outside my own head, but the thought crosses my mind of grabbing my own kid and saying, “Fine! Sweetums is not going on the field trip, I’m taking her to the art museum MYSELF!”

  14. Emily June 5, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    P.S., Just so we’re clear, the paid/unpaid thing doesn’t even enter into the equation with me. I wouldn’t work OR volunteer for or with rude people, but I’d be happy to do either one of those things if the other people there are reasonable.

  15. Natalie June 5, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Hello and welcome to Bureaucracy.

    Fill out this form in triplicate, check Godwin’s Law at the door, and refile in 2 months after your form is lost without anyone telling you. We’ve got rules and procedures and while we can’t be fired for being impolite or inefficient or grossly incompetent, we can be fired for not following rules. You think you’re frustrated by having having to deal with a bureaucracy? Try working for one.

    I can come visit my daughter at lunch at the daycare, I can hang out at the end of the day while she runs around the playground with her friends. But I can’t give the kids a demo of liquid repellant fabrics without a background check. If someone finds out that they went against the rules, they could be fined or lose their license.

  16. Natalie June 5, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Jennie- I like how you capitalize The Rule. As if it’s an entirely separate entity unto itself.

  17. Taradlion June 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    “They were prepared to send a busload of students with too few chaperones rather than risk the chance that a parent volunteer whose paperwork they could not find might be a pervert.”….

    Example of measures taken to try to prevent the extremely unlikely (chaperone without a background check is hiding criminal history and plotting to abuse a kid) while increasing the risk of smaller problem (kid getting separated from group. Not the end if the world, but still…actually with too few chaperines, a kid could get kidnapped!)

  18. Kris June 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Wow, DJ, I think you missed the Free Range point. My mom chaperoned a field trip (back in the ’80s) to a museum in NYC. She had a group of us. Two of us (me and a girl named Dawn) separated from the group. We were just fine. We used a restroom, we looked around while trying to find our group, my mom and teacher were never mad or worried, a museum security guy helped us find our way, we all survived. No background checks, no abuse, nothing eventful.

    I am tired of having to prove I am worthy of supporting my kids in school. I am allowed to show up to award ceremonies and PTA meetings unchecked, but I am a suspect first if I wish to volunteer to read to the class or come along on a field trip. Who’s to say I don’t beat the crap out of my kids at home? Or terrorize the ‘hood outside school hours? (I don’t, of course, but they don’t know that.) Oh, how I long for the day I might be able to open and run a Free-Range preschool/young elementary.

  19. RunTime714 June 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    @DJ :The parent/chaperone is also responsible for taking the kids to the bathroom, etc. So, in a large museum, at the zoo, etc, there is ripe opportunity for unseen abuse

    these are 5th grade students, not toddlers. The chaperone is going to have numerous very verbal children surrounding them, and the children are quite capable of taking care of bathroom trips on their own. Chaperones aren’t going to be escorting them into the stall, pulling up their pants or any such personal behavior.

  20. lollipoplover June 5, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    “The parent/chaperone is also responsible for taking the kids to the bathroom, etc. So, in a large museum, at the zoo, etc, there is ripe opportunity for unseen abuse.”

    ????

    I chaperoned a group of 10 yo’s at the museum this week. I don’t have a background check. I am well known to most students (small school, I’ve got 3 there) and teachers. I was given one of those kids where the teacher gives you her cell # “Just in case” because of behavior problems (he practically submerged himself in the stingray touching pool, tried to buy a grape soda from a vendor then shook it up when I said “No”).
    The teacher asked me to take PICTURES of all the kids throughout the day and send them to her for a surprise slide show. Why? Because field trips are FUN. The worst thing that happened was getting stuck in traffic. These kids went to the bathroom on their own, like at school, while I waited outside the door.

    Abuse?
    On a field trip?
    Have you ever tried chaperoning 8 feral children who make yours look like Stepford children?
    I gave up my water bottles, shared food with hungry kids, and paid for a crappy necklace for the kid who forgot money for the gift shop. I made sure they washed their hands before lunch to get off the stingray stink. I EARNED my glass of wine that night as did all of the other chaperones on that trip.

    I do not look at fellow parents in my community with suspicion, especially ones who volunteer for class trips. Anyone who has been on one of these trips knows what I am talking about. I am more concerned with a bus crash and WHY IS THE BUS DRIVER TALKING ON A CELLPHONE than abuse. Seriously, this is NUTS.

  21. Michael F June 5, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    In the Massachusetts system my son is in I do the forms every two years (now that its two years, before it was a year) and things have been ok. Typically I limit my exposure but even with the numerous school functions I volunteer at, the Cub Scouts and other functions I bring my child to I expect nothing from the school. Do I dislike the overpowering rules and the feeling of helplessness I get when I do volunteer to help out when asked? Yes I do, but its the way things are. Times change, and as much as I dislike them I do work within the rules and do what I feel is necessary to stay involved, and known. In some school systems its sometimes worse to be seen as the parent who is NOT volunteering.

    I do like this story and its the whole Ma’am point is hilarious, while its known those in the South and South West are polite its the hidden stuff missed by many Northerners you really have to watch out for.

  22. A Dad June 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Am I the only one that is hearing the Twilight Zone theme music?
    Because Judy Safern is not in their computer system, she no longer exists.
    Argh, what will be next?

  23. Gary June 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    DJ Troll is trolling…

  24. Sharon June 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    I just went on a trip from Maryland to Philadelphia for my daughter’s fifth grade class. They wanted my money, my time, and the field trip started before the school was open.

    The kids were great, the day was hot (we applied sunscreen before the trip), and I have survived my last elementary school field trip. I hope middle school is better but I heard most of the parents walk their children to the bus stop (two blocks away, no streets to cross).

  25. Natalie June 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    On Southerner-isms, I’ve been told that trash talk is preceded by “bless her heart”

  26. Papilio June 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Main Entry: stranger  Show IPA/ˈstreɪndʒər/
    Part of Speech: noun
    Definition: crude, savage person
    Synonyms: beast, bigot, boor, brute, cannibal, clod, hooligan, hun, ignoramus, lout, monster, philistine, rascal, ruffian, troglodyte, vandal
    Antonyms: sophisticate

  27. Natalie June 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    Sssssshhhhhh, don’t give them any ideas Papillo! Now we’ll have parents feeding garlic to kids so that they won’t taste as good to the cannibals roaming around suburbia!

  28. anonymous this time June 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    In order to drive kids on a field trip, my kids’ elementary school requires proof of insurance, and a copy of the driver’s license.

    If it’s a walking trip, parents just agree to show up and go with the class.

    There are no buzzers on the doors (but they do lock all doors but the front door two minutes after the morning bell rings, which I think is ridiculous).

    I usually just walk into the school if I need to find my kid during the day, perhaps give a casual wave to the secretary, or not. I don’t ask permission. I just walk in. (My mother made the mistake of asking at the desk, and the principal did a little “security dance” and told her she wasn’t on the official “pick up list” so she was turned away. I told her to just stride purposely toward the classroom next time.) There is never a record of my being at the school, and certainly no photo ID required or computer system that has my security clearance file on it.

    What Judy describes is a system that I just could not agree to. I’m not sure what I would do instead, but the whole idea of background checks to accompany field trips, and getting BADGES when you come into the school for any reason, even if you have kids enrolled there… oh, my. No way, no how. My recent visit to a Washington State prison required less rigamarole.

  29. Warren June 5, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    @Micheal,

    Sorry Micheal, but some of us will not jump through the hoops of a school’s security theatre, just to prove we care.

    On top of the insult that is implied by having to prove myself worthy to be around my kids and their friends, there is the financial costs as well, that are rising every year

    These are kids that are in and out of my house more times than I can count. And yet the school insists I prove myself, every year.

    As for handing over copies of gov’t ID, such as driver’s licenses, I refuse, as is my right. The issuing gov’t tells us all the time to never hand them over. You can look at the picture to verify who I am, but you will not copy it or the number.

    Besides, as it seems with Micheal, too many parents just volunteer for appearance sake.

  30. Papilio June 5, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Guilty until proven innocent. It sounds a bit like the Strict Liability we have here to keep motorists from killing cyclists & pedestrians, only for a faaaaaaar smaller risk instead. Matter of priorities?

  31. Cin June 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    My children’s school has no locked doors, no buzzers, no security cameras and no parent BG check system. None.

    We sign in at the office if we’re coming in to visit or to get them — by signing a piece of paper. No one checks my ID. (Certain children are flagged, due to custody or other issues, and those families are treated as exceptions — which they are.)

    The school relies on a community model — if something just seems out of whack, alert the office or approach the parent — and it works. There are parents at the school all day long.

    The statistics show these types of schools are just as safe as the locked-down ones. (Remember, Sandy Hook had a buzz-in system and locked doors. Columbine had armed security!)

    On field trips, we keep the kids safe with the “two-deep” rule — always two (non-related) adults with kids that are not your own. Also proven to actually work.

    The only exception is driving a field trip — that takes a lot more hoops, but they make sense (driver licence check, need extra insurance on your car, “two-deep” in the car.) We mostly use buses for field trips, though.

    Some rules are important. Some are not. None of them are the law.

  32. maggie2 June 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    Warren, it’s the same way with Girl Scouts. You now have to register (and pay the registration fee), have a background check AND references just to drive these girls on a field trip. It could be 10 minutes away, it could be 2 days away. Doesn’t matter. Most of these girls spend so much time together and with each others parents on a normal, routine, basis that this is just ludicrous. Not to mention, if one of our “registered” drivers can’t make it the day of the trip, we’re pretty stuck as to how to transport 16 girls in two cars.

  33. Judy Safern June 5, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Thank you for posting this, Lenore, and thank you guys for engaging with me on the issue. It was good to vent and now I feel so HEARD. Thank you!

    In the spirit of my deconstruction of the term “ma’am,” and because Natalie reminded me, I must say: “Bless ya’all’s hearts for all that terrific feedback.”

    Natalie, you’re right, we do use “bless her heart” as the first line of third party trash talk (“bless Lorena’s heart, she’s just too busy and she’s acting thick as mud today”) but, delivered directly, it can ALSO mean: “awwwww, you are so sweet!”) A blessing on one’s heart is sometimes pronounced to mean “all is well.” But often, you will find, it is used to say “Go to hell. Go directly to hell, I know you are anyway even though I am blessing you, I KNOW you are still going to hell.” In that case, what one might hear would be: “Ma’am? Bless your heart, you forgot to paste the sticker back in the log book…”

    In the end, we saw some great art and I am proud to say no one in my group was lost or robbed or molested or anything other than well-chaperoned. My son and I are both very happy I was there and, bless his heart, a few days later he invited me back for Career Day!!

  34. Emily June 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    >>always two (non-related) adults with kids that are not your own. Also proven to actually work.<<

    Why "non-related?" No snark intended here; I'm just wondering why it is that it's considered "dangerous" for two related adults (say, siblings, or a husband-and-wife team) to chaperone a field trip, or lead a Scout/Guide/Campfire Kids group together.

  35. hineata June 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Please, how do you get volunteers at all? This all blows me away. All we ask for is valid driver licenses if there’s driving involved. Otherwise whoever turns up goes, provided there’s enough room on the bus. We did once leave a parent behind at the museum, and that was embarrassing, but luckily they found it hilarious.

    No need for background checks for a day trip. Most schoolies trips, too many kids around for a perv to get up to anything anyway, and its usually like herding cats:-) .

  36. hineata June 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Actually, right now, I would settle for: If it breathes, and appears to be a carbon-based life form, and is over, say, four feet tall (so it looks sort of like an adult of the species) then it goes….

    We have almost no restrictions and we still have trouble filling volunteer spaces at times because, darn it, parents have lives…..why would y’all make it so hard on yourselves?

  37. Filioque June 5, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    I completely agree with Warren about parents going on strike, and that’s essentially what I did this year. My kids’ new school principal instituted a background check requirement for field trip chaperones, and I decided that I refuse to be treated like a criminal just to accompany my own child on a field trip.

    I suspect I wasn’t the only one, as the calls for drivers and chaperones seemed to get more desperate with each field trip this year (it’s a small private school with no buses). I feel bad that it seemed to be the same parents chaperoning each field trip, but oh well. Incidentally, this same principal was run out of the school after just one year, so maybe I’ll approach the new principal about this.

  38. Papilio June 5, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    @hineata: “…and is over, say, four feet tall (so it looks sort of like an adult of the species)”

    Four feet???! I was five feet when I was 11, so even that sounds minuscule for an adult to me…
    Sorry, no offense, I’m just a little perplexed here :)

  39. pentamom June 5, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    “Why “non-related?” No snark intended here; I’m just wondering why it is that it’s considered “dangerous” for two related adults (say, siblings, or a husband-and-wife team) to chaperone a field trip, or lead a Scout/Guide/Campfire Kids group together.”

    The implication is that husband-wife, parent-child, or whatever relationship, will conspire to get up to no good and/or cover for each other if one of them does. Sick, sick, sick way of thinking.

  40. lunalibre June 5, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Judy, your deconstruction of our Southern-isms was perfect! I’m in the Dallas area, and I bet my kids’ schools use that exact same sticker badge system.

    At my daughter’s middle school (7th and 8th graders), I have to sign in and get a badge to walk ***10 feet*** to the glassed-in administrative office to sign my child in and out of school. Apparently parents can’t walk 10 feet in a public space without having had a background check and signing in. I have to show my driver’s license to two sets of people as well.

    My son, a high school student, asked me to bring him a notebook one day. I had to sign in at the front desk and get a badge, walk to the counselor’s office for his grade, sign in AGAIN, sign another form to leave the notebook, then sign back out again at the counselor’s office and again at the front desk. It took me over 15 minutes to drop off a forgotten notebook. I told my son NEVER AGAIN could I bring him anything. It was ridiculous. Talk about “security theater!”

  41. Emily June 5, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    >>The implication is that husband-wife, parent-child, or whatever relationship, will conspire to get up to no good and/or cover for each other if one of them does. Sick, sick, sick way of thinking.<<

    But, that's just more worst-first, guilty-until-proven-innocent, kind of thinking. Besides, two people who are just friends, but not related, could do the same thing if they really wanted to, but since both of these hypothetical people would have passed a background check anyway, what are the chances that they'd even want to "get up to no good?" So, I think that two background-checked people who happen to be married or related, should be treated exactly the same way as two background-checked people who aren't. Besides, there are so many holes in the system–I mean, suppose Sally and Sam were just dating, but decided to become Scout leaders together? Would they have to switch to separate groups when they got married, or just when they started living together? What if they decided to live together, but not get married? What if they got married, and complied with the rules (so, Sally worked with the Beaver Scouts, and Sam with the Cub Scouts, or something), and then they got divorced? Could they be Scout leaders together again, since they're no longer married? There are just too many holes in this rule to make it remotely practical.

  42. Buffy June 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    If it’s assumed that all parents are closet child molesters, I don’t understand why the school sends all the kids home at the end of the day. I mean, good grief, they’re giving these horrible parents ACCESS to not only their own children but their children’s friends! Couldn’t the school be held liable for that? Keep them at school 24/7, where everyone is protected and safe, and let the parents look at them through the window…that’s the only solution.

    >sarcasm off<

  43. Jenna K. June 5, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    I’m SO glad our school still maintains some common sense. I love the ladies in our school office. Not only do they know me by name, but they know my kids and who their teachers are (at least were, this year, school got out today), but they also know the names of my kids not enrolled in school yet. Granted, I’ve been on the PTA board for a couple of years and do a lot of volunteer work there, but even then, we don’t have to do a background check or fingerprints or anything like that. Just sign in and go.

  44. LRothman June 5, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    I would have been tempted to pull my kid for the day, drive to the museum and “happen” to meet the school group there.

  45. Cin June 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    The non-related part is a bit ridiculous, I fully admit it — it’s a legal CYA.

    But “two-deep” works really well, as it protects both the kids (from the extremely rare event of abuse) and the volunteers (from the also rare false or blown-out-of-proportion report.)

    The Scouts here in Canada pratise this rigorously, after a sex-abuse cover-up scandal involving a number of leaders and boys in the 70s and 80s recently came to light (the Scouts hid the records and did not report the abuse!)

    They changed a lot of things — most were ridic security theatre, but two-deep and a clear reporting policy (aka “tell the cops when you’re supposed to tell them you idiots”) do make sense.

  46. Donald June 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    ……..I’m SO glad our school still maintains some common sense. I love the ladies in our school office……..

    We need to show some appreciation for this. I’m being serious. There are many schools that haven’t given into the ‘prison yard security’ or turn into a bunch of mindless zelots. Without a doubt they are being pressured into doing so. Lets support them and help them resist this. This also strengthens the community.

  47. SKL June 5, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

    Holy poo. LOL. If I were her I would have told her to stick her system where the sun don’t shine, and then met the kids at the museum.

  48. Angie June 5, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    I worked at an electronics company in Sunnyvale back in the ’80s, and our company partnered with a couple of schools in the area. I went into classrooms to do interactive computer demonstrations, helped out with a Halloween carnival, and chaperoned half a dozen elementary schoool kids around the San Francisco Zoo one day. I have no children, much less children who attended either of those schools; I was a random adult who worked for a local business, and I was allowed to interact with dozens of kids without ever having had a background check. Same with a lot of other employees of my company, and other companies in the area who had similar programs.

    Nothing ever happened. No one was ever hurt or molested (kids or adults [smirk]) and no one ever suggested that there might be a problem.

    If it was safe then (in a much more violent time) to let random members of the community help out at school and off-school-property functions, then surely it’s just as safe now to let parents help out. All the background checks and buzzing in and “No you can’t pick up your kid because your car isn’t right up next to the cone” crap we’re seeing now is security theater, not real security. None of this makes our kids safer; it’s just the people in charge showing the public that they’re Doing Something. Whether that something actually accomplishes anything is irrelevant.

    Angie

  49. Katie June 5, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    Just a thought (and I’ll admit I did not read all of this because it is rather long)

    Couldn’t one get around this by simply going to the museum and just happening to go to all the same exhibits as their kid?

  50. Jay June 5, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    I don’t have kids myself, but I weep for our children’s future with all this bureaucratic baloney. What kind of society are we going to leave for them and their own children to live/work in when they are adults?

  51. maggie2 June 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    But Angie, it’s DIFFERENT now. We live in DANGEROUS times and kids are just not safe anymore, with so many perverts running around. You just CAN’T do that anymore, with the way the world is now.
    (sarcasm heavy and used liberally)

  52. mongolberry June 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    I would love to see an article about the ridiculous rules the military forces on parents.For example my children must be directly supervised (I must be able to see them) whenever we go out of the house until they are both 8 years old. Even then until they are both 12 they must have “easy access” to a parent or babysitter. When 12 the oldest can stay home alone with telephone access to us for a set amount of time. When they are older they can babysit as long as they take a special class. this isnt even touching on the craziness of requiring already background checked soldiers to get a background check to read to kids in a classroom in an on post school for an hour a week. If we don’t follow these rules then my husband could get in major trouble.

  53. Lucy June 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Emily, the requirement that the two adults be unrelated is based on the fact that a husband cannot be compelled to testify against his wife, or a wife against her husband. In other words, if abuse occurs or is alleged, they want the other adult to testify against the accused, and not be exempt by reason of marriage. In many churches nowadays they won’t let a husband and wife teach a Sunday school class together, or take care of the nursery together, for this very reason. Many liability insurance policies require this rule to be enforced.

    Yes, the world has gone stark raving mad.

  54. sylvia_rachel June 5, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Holy DOODLE.

    I am never going to complain about having to to into the school to sign my kid out for a dentist appointment again, because obviously it could be SO MUCH WORSE.

    I chaperoned (we call it “volunteering” here in Toronto) a field trip with my daughter’s Grade 5/6 class earlier this year. I arrived with her in the morning; the ID check consisted of the teacher asking for an introduction from the kid of any adult she didn’t know (we had an auntie and a dad’s-girlfriend as well as the mums and dads) and having all the parent volunteers to introduce ourselves to the class. Then we all piled onto a school bus and drove to the school board’s outdoor ed centre. At the end of the day, the bus took us back to school. And the teacher thanked us for volunteering and pointed out to the kids that if it weren’t for parent volunteers, they wouldn’t be able to do field trips.

    There were no background checks and no ID checks, and yet nothing terrible happened…

  55. Donna June 5, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    “The parent/chaperone is also responsible for taking the kids to the bathroom, etc. So, in a large museum, at the zoo, etc, there is ripe opportunity for unseen abuse.”

    Huh? My kid has been going to the bathroom by herself since long before kindergarten so I’m not sure where any unseen abuse is happening on school field trips during bathroom breaks. Even if, for some weird reason, you need to take all of your kids to the bathroom as a group, you are not going to go into the stall with them. You are either going to be waiting to use it yourself or hanging outside waiting for everyone to come out. A small confined area with a group of kids milling about waiting or hand washing is not a prime child abuse opportunity.

  56. Emily June 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    @Sylvia Rachel–That’s exactly the way it should be. I remember when I was in grade one, our class took swimming lessons at the recreation centre up the street from the school. After the first week, our teacher mentioned to the class that she needed more parent volunteers; especially fathers to supervise in the boys’ change room. I relayed that message to my parents that night at dinner, my dad called the school and spoke to my teacher, and he joined us on the next swimming excursion, without a background check or anything…..and NOTHING untoward happened that day at all. This was in 1990 or 1991; also in the middle of the “child molester” hype around O.J. Simpson, so life was more dangerous back then than it is now.

  57. CrazyCatLady June 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    Well, here is what I would have done. I would have gently said that I needed to, right then and there, take my son home for the day. Please call him out of the class, because he needs to come with me.

    Then I would have driven down to the museum and met the teacher and class. Nope, I would not “be with” that group, we just happen to be looking at the same things. And yes, we know some of the kids.

  58. Emily June 6, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    >>Well, here is what I would have done. I would have gently said that I needed to, right then and there, take my son home for the day. Please call him out of the class, because he needs to come with me.

    Then I would have driven down to the museum and met the teacher and class. Nope, I would not “be with” that group, we just happen to be looking at the same things. And yes, we know some of the kids.<<

    That's tempting, but realistically, if someone actually did that, I think the school officials probably wouldn't like it, and they'd probably be very vocal about it; if not right there in the museum, at school the next day. They'd either go after the mother, so the kid would end up in the crossfire, or they'd bully the kid, whether subtly or otherwise–maybe directly reprimanding/punishing him over his mother's stunt, or maybe other things, like giving him detention for talking in class, while another student might only get a warning. I know it's not fair, and I know that pulling the child out of school because of unfair treatment, and then taking him to the art museum isn't doing anything wrong, EVEN if said art museum happens to be the field trip destination, but the fact remains that it's easier to browbeat a ten-year-old kid, who you see for 30 hours each week, into thinking he's done something wrong, than it is to do the same to an adult who you only see intermittently.

  59. CrazyCatLady June 6, 2013 at 12:41 am #

    I suspect that the teacher would have been happy that I met her at the museum. And, in my experience, would have been a better judge of things that the office staff. Had the teacher been doing this stuff, no, probably not what I would have done. But given this is office staff who, in my experience, tend to be very rigid people about rules, totally different issue unless my kid is late to school regularly or such.

  60. CrazyCatLady June 6, 2013 at 12:51 am #

    Our school (kind of a charter homeschool with onsite classes) has everyone do a background check as part of yearly sign up.

    What gets our principal putting his fingers in his ear and going “La, la, la!” while you talk is parents transporting kids who are not their own to field trips that require parent transportation. The issue is, that some of the parent teach classes for other kids, so when events arise, like an aviation day at the local airport, not all of the parents can transport their own kids. Add into that a legislative requirement that the school tries to meet using field trips, and you have some issues.

    I didn’t actually have him saying “La, la, la” but he did say he didn’t want me to tell him more. Even though the field trip form doesn’t say that it must be parents only who transport the kids.

  61. Emily June 6, 2013 at 1:37 am #

    @CrazyCatLady–That’s a relief. I thought all the adults who worked at your kid’s school were similarly insane, but I’m at least glad to hear that the teachers are still reasonable. I had a few over the years who definitely weren’t. As for the (albeit loosely enforced) rule about parents only transporting their own kids on field trips, that’s another rule that looks good on paper, but doesn’t work in real life. Some parents don’t drive. Some parents can drive, but don’t own cars. Some families only have one car, which might be with the other parent that day, especially if the other parent works outside the home, and therefore needs transportation to and from work. Sometimes, even when there’s a vehicle for each adult in the house, those vehicles break down, or need to be taken in for check-ups. Some families have both parents working, so they might not be available for field trip driving duty. Also, some parents have more than one child, in more than one class, and what are they to do if Suzie’s grade one class is going to the zoo, while Tommy’s grade three class is going to the planetarium, on the same day?

    know what’s even more ironic? When I was in elementary school, there was always a unit about the environment, usually around Earth Day, and there was almost always some mention about how carpooling (as well as walking, biking, and public transit) was more environmentally friendly than each person driving their own separate vehicle everywhere. So, what’s the deal? Has the public school system stopped teaching kids that, or do they continue to say it in class, while encouraging parents to do the exact opposite, in the name of “safety?”

  62. hineata June 6, 2013 at 3:02 am #

    @Papillo – so was I, actually, LOL! (5 foot at age 11, I mean).

    I guess I just didn’t want to leave out the small among us – one of my girl will be pushing it to ever get to five feet. :-).

    Also, frankly some days we are desperate enough for helpers that we would probably consider a good sheep dog, or an Alsatian. Anything accustomed to crowd control. And most of those don’t reach four foot at the shoulder, so maybe I should have lowered my height limit . Though I did once work with a good Irish wolfhound…… :-)

    Sadly, the chances of such helpers having valid driver licences is probably fairly slim…..

  63. Jay June 6, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    It’s a downright shame how it is now. *smh* I’m sure everyone here can relate to this:

    When I was a child, my school was much more open to the public. We had lots of people in the community who would volunteer for different activities or who’d work in the school office. One of them was my neighbor who, along with others, would help the kids who were struggling in school & all the kids adored & affectionately referred to as “Mrs. I” rather than her full surname. While she was a parent with kids who had already grown up, she continued to work there for many years. No background check, no ID, and no children were put in danger.

    The schools even encouraged not just parents but people in the community to get involved in helping out there, whether it was simply part-time administrative work in the office (which my mother did when I was very young), being a chaperone on a field trip, or helping out with different activities at school.

    Schools today are requesting the same thing, BUT FIRST “we request that you submit to a background check – at your expense, a photo ID taken by us, provide an up to date driver’s license or state ID card, blood sample, DNA profile, family medical, criminal, & psychological history, etc., etc.” With so many rules and regulations is, is it any wonder why today’s adults don’t even bother to volunteer in the first place? And who ultimately suffers in the end? Certainly not our precious children! (sarcasm)

  64. Cin June 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Here’s another question: what happens re: these BG checks if you are a peaceful activist, or a journalist, who has been arrested at a protest when the cops overstep?

    Because of your commitment to freedom, democracy and holding governments accountable through journalism, are you no longer allowed to visit your child’s school?

    As you can tell, I have major issues with even the idea of a BG check. What are we checking? In Canada, the checks flag you if you’ve ever been arrested (even if no charges were laid), ever been acquitted, sometimes if you’ve been a court witness!

    How many schools look farther than the flag?

  65. P a p i l i o June 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    @hineata: http://resources21.kb.nl/gvn/NOMA01/NOMA01_AA171198_X.jpg ?

  66. Warren June 6, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    @Cin
    I do not know where in Canada you are from, but in Ontario, the school does not see anything other than a letter from the police, that did the check. The letter simply states whether you are allowed or not allowed to be a volunteer. Not all criminal history excludes you, only cetain offenses will.
    It is a pain in the ass, because it requires two seperate trips to the cop shop. And it cannot be any cop shop, it has to be the one nearest the school. Even if it is the OPP, still has to be the detatchment closest to the school. For a rural community that usually means 2 afternoons off work. One to apply, the other to pick it up. Because your spouse isn’t allowed to pick it up for you.
    So for a one day school trip, that a co worker and I went on, the financial cost of volunteering for one day isn’t just the one day off anymore.

  67. Amanda Matthews June 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    Why put up with this crap?
    Take your kid out of the school, drive him to the museum yourself, and don’t send him back to that prison the next day.

    @Warren
    “Well teachers can go on strike, why don’t the parents do the same thing. Stop volunteering, helping and donating, untill the school system comes back to reality.”

    No, you have to hit the school where it hurts. Strike by keeping your kids out of school. Schools get money based on how many children are in attendance. THAT will hurt them – parents not volunteering just makes things easier for them, because they don’t have to do background checks and all that other bs.

  68. Bill Beeman June 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Note that Judy Safern’s original complaint was not with the system requiring a background check, but with the incompetent administration of the system. The real error here is treating the computer system as infallible, in the face of evidence that it has failed (note her evidence that the system had recognized her shortly before).

    But, no public employee ever got in trouble for following the most asinine rule to the letter. How many valuable resources are lost because of this kind of mindless bureaucratic posturing?

    Given today’s litigation environment, some relatively useless processes are demanded by insurers, but we are, more and more, elevating the most inane outpourings of the bureaucratic mind to the level of holly writ.

  69. Kay June 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Judy, I hope you do a follow up with the principal or even the superintendent.

    Seriously, I agree with the first post, you are doing them a FAVOR. It seems the schools are always short on volunteers. The least they can do is have faith in those they see on a weekly basis! Otherwise, tell them you won’t be going through such a hassle again! (Although, I know you actually really wanted to go on this one.)

  70. hineata June 6, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    @Papillo – OMG! Why didn’t we think of that! So much for teaching the ‘bright’ kids…. :-).

    I’ll never have transport hassles again :-)

  71. P a p i l i o June 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    @Hineata: LOL :D

  72. ciil June 8, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Hey, guy from Europe here.

    I’ve just got a question, because I’ve read some things about parents often chaperoning for field-trips in the US and I just wanted to ask: How many children are there that they need extra helpers? Now, my schooling ended just some years ago and I can’t remember ever having more than two teachers with us on field trips (in classes of about 30 children). But maybe you mostly do field trips year-wise, so if there’s 100 kids, you’d probably need some volunteers.

    Otherwise, concerning the article: That sounds completely stupid to me. I mean, just thinking that you can only enter your child’s school after ringing? And then you need some badge? Sounds very over the top.

    Heads up! :)
    ciil

  73. Cynthia June 10, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    I am baffled by the secretary’s complete lack of common sense in this situation. I live just east of Toronto, Canada and was in a similar situation at the start of the school year. I showed up to volunteer in my son’s class who is in Senior Kindergarten but the secretary couldn’t find a copy of my background check on file. I had been a volunteer the previous year so she was totally fine with letting me in and simply asked me to drop off a copy the next time I volunteered. We don’t get buzzed in. When the secretary is on lunch break, a couple of grade 8 students are left in charge to handle visitors and students coming in and out. Perhaps it’s more relaxed because it’s a small school (less that 300) and a lot of the same moms come in to volunteer. I feel blessed that I don’t have to go through the same rigour that people have described to help chaperone activities at our school.