GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A group of more than 60 concerned parents, educators and community leaders, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, sent a letter today to Grand Rapids Public Schools urging the district to amend its rules that prohibit parents, grandparents and guardians with criminal records from volunteering in their child’s school.

We support the district’s goal of screening out volunteers who might pose a threat to our children. However, a blanket ban does more harm than good by discouraging parental involvement and confusing both parents and teachers,” said Tracey Brame, Assistant Dean at Cooley Law School. “More carefully tailored rules will better promote parental involvement, while also keeping our children safe.”

At the start of the school year, parents, grandparents and guardians began a campaign to urge the district to reconsider the volunteer rules. They presented the district with hundreds of petition signatures in support of their efforts.  

In addition, community leaders and educators, including many of whom signed today’s letter, attended GRPS Board of Education meetings urging the district to make changes to the rules.

Today’s letter is the latest effort by community members to ensure that parents and guardians are not prohibited from fully contributing to their child’s education.

Currently, the GRPS volunteer rules bar many parents and guardians with criminal records from fully participating in school activities.

In one case, a parent, once recommended for “parent of the month,” was barred from volunteering, eating lunch with her children and entering the school without an escort after the district learned of a 10-year-old conviction for bad checks.

“We can all agree that parental involvement is vital to our students’ success,” said Kathy Muir Laidlaw of the Keller Foundation. “By amending its rules to allow for individualized consideration, GRPS can screen out problematic volunteers, while reaping the enormous benefits of getting more parents, grandparents, and guardians involved in the school system.”

In its 2-page letter, group members asked the district to develop clear, detailed rules on what school activities require a volunteer clearance and what activities are allowed for parents without a background check.

The group asked the district to review applications of parents and guardians with felony convictions on a case-by-case basis and to post and publicize the new rules and appeals process to parents and staff.

In addition, they asked the board to establish a new committee, composed of community leaders, GRPS parents, educational professionals, and at least one GRPS Board member to implement the proposed changes.

“Everyone loses if parents are not allowed to be a part of their child’s education,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan West Michigan Regional Office staff attorney. “By including parents, community members and educators into the process, we can work toward a solution that works for our children and our schools.”

Group members will present the letter and express their concerns in person at the Monday, March 7, 2011 school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the board auditorium of the Rev. Lyman S. Parks Administrative Offices, 1331 Franklin, SE.

Read the letter to Grand Rapids Public Schools
Read our November 9th letter to GRPS
Read our December 29th letter to GRPS