Volunteering up to nine hours during the school year — the equivalent of three minutes every school day, or about as long as most people spend brushing their teeth — shouldn't be construed as a burdensome task for parents.
So, it was smart for a Hernando School Board majority to reverse itself last week and continue its volunteer requirement at two of the district's magnet schools: Challenger K-8 and Chocachatti Elementary School.
Just a month ago, a board majority of John Sweeney, Dianne Bonfield and Sandra Nicholson wanted to abandon the standard, saying it unfairly penalized children whose families failed to meet the requirement. Under the current rule children can be asked to leave the school if their families do not contribute sufficient volunteer hours.
While trying to do what's best for the children is laudable, the trio's position sent the wrong message to parents and teachers alike that a lack of commitment is acceptable behavior. One teacher was so irked she wrongly sent an e-mail, apparently from a school district computer, urging her kindergarten parents to support Nicholson's opponent in the Nov. 2 election.
The misguided campaigning aside, the episode demonstrated the passionate feelings among the faculty and the fears the board's decision would undermine the schools' success.
Last week, the board agreed. Pending a final vote, the district will set the volunteering mandate at eight hours, but relax the punishment. Families failing to donate sufficient time to the school likely will be required to meet with school administrators to explain the deficiency and to try to arrange volunteer opportunities.
It's an appropriate strategy and the requirement should be no surprise to families. The district's six-page list of magnet school procedures is clear on its rules including the final item on the list: "Parents must complete required volunteer hours for their child to remain at the magnet school. Parents of fifth grade and eighth grade students must complete half of their volunteer hours by the end of the first semester or their child(ren) may be withdrawn.''
More important than the procedure is the motivation. Volunteers and community interaction are imperative to a school's success. Getting parents into the schools allows adults to interact more frequently with educators. It can motivate better student behavior and, in a time of constrained school budgets, provides added valuable assistance for classrooms faced with shrinking resources.
Time is an investment all parents should be willing to make in their children's education and the School Board is right not to discourage it.