Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Panic at Charlottesville High School

I don’t often succumb to full-on panic attacks, but yesterday evening at Charlottesville High School’s open house for freshmen, I had the full onslaught of symptoms: pounding heart, chest pain, dizziness, nausea.  I would have fled, but for the two Stepford PTO drones who were guarding the entrance to the auditorium.  My experience with the public schools in Charlottesville has been so bad that it triggers this visceral reaction every time I enter the building.

Our children had been collected by school bus a few hours earlier, to attend the student orientation, and now the parents were gathered at the fabulously inconvenient time of 5:15 for our indoctrination.  Much of the meeting was spent discussing the tablets, which our children were, at that moment, receiving in a different part of the school.  I sent Seamus a text:  Tell them your mom refuses it.  He texted back: Now is not the time for a rebellion.

So the tablets.  I wrote a long, angry piece about them when they were introduced, and followed up with an email (less angry) to the superintendent of schools who called me at home and talked to me as if I were a five year old.  Why am I so opposed to them, when we all have iphones and laptops and computers at home?  It’s one thing to choose to use these devices, and it’s quite another to be REQUIRED to do the bulk of your learning on it.   Will there be long-term, detrimental changes to the ways that our children learn, or even their brain development?  No one knows, and the city schools, apparently, don’t care.  The crucial issue is that this is a public school. Public schools are required to educate all children who live in their district.  This public school is saying that it is impossible to educate my child without a tablet.  Not only that, this public school is requiring that parents accept responsibility for a device that costs more than $1000 and to agree to pay for damages incurred to it. Not only that, students who live in houses without wireless internet, have to seek out free hot spots in which to do some of their assignments.  I’m no lawyer, but that sounds unconstitutional to me.

Anyway, last night, during the tablet talk, the administrator opened the discussion by saying, "We know your kids are plugged in when they're at home, and we want them to be plugged in while they're at school too."  We were given generic advice about policing our children on the internet.  We were told (incorrectly) that our children will not be able to access distraction sites like facebook on their tablets. 

Parent questions were brutally dispensed with.  One parent talked about how some tablets malfunctioned during testing last year.   All tests are now taken on the tablets, and you can imagine how frustrating it would be for your tablet to die in the middle of a test which you had studied for and just wanted to be over already.  The parent was told, “If that happens to your child, she should raise her hand and tell the teacher.”   Parents persisted in asking about the tech problems that have plagued the tablets since they were introduced, and the answer quoted above is a good indicator of the administration’s attitude toward us: sit down and shut up.  Finally, (after a frustrating waste of time discussing LOCKERS, and could the kids leave their tablets in them overnight) we were told that only two more questions would be allowed. 

At the end of the tablet discussion, the principal told us that the planned family dinner wasn’t quite ready yet and she still had ten minutes to kill, so how about we watch them perform a silly CHS cheer? (WHAT ABOUT USING THAT LAST TEN MINUTES FOR MORE QUESTIONS?)  Then she said something about how we can contact her with concerns, and with her arm raised in the classic, “I’m done listening to you people” gesture, she dismissed the meeting. 

I met my friend in the cafeteria and she showed me the portable keyboard that had just been issued to her daughter.  It had food slopped over it leftover from whoever had owned it last year.  That’s pretty gross, and it also doesn’t validate the school’s claim that they’re taking the tech issues seriously, if they’re not even giving these things a cursory inspection at the end of the year. 

Oh, and the student orientation?  For which they were required to go to school for half a day on the last day of vacation?  I assumed they would have a chance to walk through their schedules, maybe get lists of supplies from their teachers.  No.  The afternoon was made up entirely of bullshit activities, like learning the school fight song. 


  1. Last year, my child went through 4 laptops (because she was not yet at the tablet age) during one test because they kept crashing. The teacher did nothing except yell at another student who finally got up to help my daughter.

    We've got that wonderful teacher again this year. SO. EXCITED.

  2. Preach on, sister. That parent meeting was a disaster. The students didn't fare much better -- 3 HOURS of tours and they didn't even get to meet the teachers or visit the classes.

    I get the feeling that no one is steering the ship at school. There's a lot of scolding about monitoring screen time and not enough information about basic things like school supplies. Also, I resent being told that I HAD to attend this meeting in order for my daughter to get her tablet (which no one uses anyway, according to my older son), when it turned out that they gave the tablets out even if parents didn't show up.

    1. Amen to everything Not Beehive said.

      As for the brusqueness with which the administration handled the questions, what would have been more helpful is if 1) they had a separate tech session for parents and 2) if parents had realized that the woman standing at the front of the auditorium answering tech questions was not the person to whom they should direct their questions about lockers.

      So my daughter went off to school today having not met all of her teachers and having no idea what supplies she needed in order to be prepared.

  3. totally agree! long winded comment on facebook!

  4. Oh shitshitshit. I think a full-out boycott should be in order. What a FRUSTRATING experience and HORRIBLE school admin.

  5. Wow. Paying tuition for school is apparently totally worth it.

  6. I think I would have gone berserk. Just reading this got my blood pressure up. Thanks for reminding me why I still homeschool, even though I'm sort of hating that, too.

  7. Oh dear. Sounds awful. And I thought the schools were quite good in Cville. And I believe in integrating laptops and/or tablets into the school. I just don't know how they can do it well.

  8. Ugh. I would have been piiiiiiissed.

    I agree on the wi-fi thing. That seems to be yet another way that low-income kids - the ones who need school in a way that the other kids can't even fathom - get the shaft.

  9. Oh goodness, and I thought our school had problems.

    I hate tablets, too many things can go wrong.

  10. Why do they need to plugged in all the time? My kid just graduated from public high school without the aid of a tablet or a laptop. Get this. He took took tests with a pen and paper.
    Whose responsible if they are stolen? This sounds like bullshit to me.

  11. Why do they need to plugged in all the time? My kid just graduated from public high school without the aid of a tablet or a laptop. Get this. He took took tests with a pen and paper.
    Whose responsible if they are stolen? This sounds like bullshit to me.