When you think you've secured a first-class ticket for your children's education, it's no fun when they get booted down into steerage.
It happened to my wife and me three years ago. We received a letter that started with a bland reminder we had agreed to serve eight volunteer hours to keep our children at one of Hernando County's two magnet schools — followed by this kicker:
"I regret to inform you that because this agreement was not honored, your child will not be allowed to return to Challenger K-8'' School of Science and Mathematics, said the letter signed by principal Sue Stoops.
Your heart sinks. The rage builds. You think of all the reasons THIS IS NOT RIGHT! You complain to Stoops, who calmly reminds you of that beginning-of-the-year contract and that your child had carried home regular reminders of the volunteer requirement, and then, slowly, the assessment of the situation changes to I'M A TOTAL FREAKIN' IDIOT!
And so I was, and so is any parent who has secured a place for his or her child at Challenger or Chocachatti Elementary School, and then blows it.
Things worked out for us. My oldest son had already planned to transfer to Gulf Coast Academy, the county's only charter school, and my youngest, now an eighth-grader at Challenger, was readmitted after he submitted a portfolio.
I tell you this not because I expect you to sweat the state of my children's education — just to establish my standing in a recent policy debate.
Last month, three School Board members wanted to change the volunteer requirement. Failure to fulfill it was an infraction committed by parents, they said, while the punishment (being bounced back to a zoned school) was served by children. It wasn't fair.
The board seems to have since settled on a compromise. Next year, children won't be removed from the school; parents will be called into a conference toward the end of the year to figure out what they need to do to keep their kids in the school.
This is probably fair, but I wouldn't have had a problem if the policy stayed as is.
Because how can anybody say it's unfair to punish children for the actions of their parents, when the system is set up to reward children based on the action of their parents?
The parents attend the open houses that are a prerequisite to admission. They are the ones who place their children's names in a lottery that selects some students for these schools, or they help their children with the portfolios that determine the other placements.
Sometimes, no doubt, they help quite a bit because, let's face it, incoming kindergartners are only able to do so much.
It favors parents with time, ambition and enough education to realize all the advantages education brings. Even the way many parents fulfill their volunteer requirements — joining children on field trips — is only open to those with enough money to pay two admissions to museums or, as was the case with my youngest son's fifth-grade class at Chocachatti, a theme park.
I fully appreciate the education my children have received and recognize all the arguments in favor of magnets.
But there's no doubt it's a two-tiered system. And that, ultimately, is what is not fair.