Note pinned to kindergartner's shirt prompts review

This kindergartner was sent home with a note for his parents pinned to his shirt. (XiaoLin Chang/California Watch)

March 22, 2011 5:35:06 PM PDT
The first time John Sinnott Elementary School sent the note home for the kindergartner's parents to sign, it was not returned. The second time, the note -- printed on an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of pink paper -- was pinned to the student's shirt.

Requiring parents to sign off on school notices is nothing new. But the public manner in which this note was delivered has outraged some in Milpitas -- including the mayor -- and prompted school officials to review what has been a common practice.

Sent March 17, the form asked parents to acknowledge that they had received and reviewed their child's report card. When the student walked out of the classroom, about 50 to 60 parents were waiting to pick up their children, said XiaoLin Chang, who was there to take the student to an afterschool program.

"They asked the parents to return the form. It's totally not the kid's fault," said Chang, director of TianTian Chinese School. "He was just standing there and looked embarrassed."

Chang removed the note from the boy's shirt and informed his father of what happened when he picked up his son at the end of the day. The parents, who asked to not be identified because they worried about their relationship with the school, were upset and shocked, she said.

Chang emailed her concerns to about 200 members of her Chinese school, the Milpitas Unified School District Board of Education and the city's mayor, Jose Esteves.

Esteves responded that the incident was upsetting and offered to help raise the issue with school officials. In a phone interview Monday, he said the action was degrading.

"It's totally against what is taught in school, like we have to increase the confidence of a child, respect the individual, respect a person -- it's totally against that," he said. "You don't use the child as a vehicle -- a post office vehicle."

This is not the first time John Sinnott Elementary has sent a kindergartner home with a note pinned to his or her clothes, but it may be the last.

"The teachers, they have this procedure. They don't intend to harm the child at all. We've used this before, but we've never ever had a complaint," said Maria Del Rio, director of human resources at Milpitas Unified School District. "Many times children lose the note, so they pin them."

An incident in Florida this month, in which a teacher stapled a disciplinary note to a second grader's shirt, has raised similar concerns about just how far schools should go to make sure notices reach students' parents.

Del Rio could not say how often this happened or if other schools in the district had done the same. But John Sinnott Elementary's principal is talking to kindergarten teachers there about changing their procedures, and Del Rio said she will raise the issue with principals districtwide at their next meeting.

"We were pretty shocked it was an issue," she said. "Now that it is we obviously don't want parents to be upset. There are other ways we can do this -- make sure parents check their backpacks so they can get their notices, that's all. As long as parents do that we have no problem."

Language barriers may have complicated the incident. Marsha Grilli, president of the Milpitas Unified Board of Education, said "the parents of the child knew this was going to happen. The teacher had been in contact with them." But Chang said the mother, who answered the school's phone call, does not speak English and did not understand.

Nearly 41 percent of John Sinnott Elementary's 724 students last year were English language learners -- students whose primary language at home was not English, according to state education data. More than 9 percent of those students spoke Mandarin or Cantonese, both of which the kindergartner's mother speaks.

Del Rio said the school does send notes in other languages when parents do not speak English. But in this case, at least one parent could communicate in English, so it was not an issue, she said.

Esteves said he will wait to see what the district does next and "then go from there." But he said the district should stop its note-pinning practice and somehow make it up to the kindergartner and his parents "who lost their face."

"It's very tragic that they have to wait for parent comments like this one," he said. "They didn't have their own sense of total respect to kids."

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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