Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Patience, persistence, and idiocracy

I just wanted to post a little update for those of you that have been wondering and asking. Currently, I still have my kids in Seminole County Public Schools and I am still planning to present to the board.  I am up to my ears in different documents and statutes and character reference letters (Thanks to all, I do have to say.....how many people have the luxury in this world of knowing exactly how their friends feel about them AND that they feel that way strongly enough to put it in writing. If nothing else comes from this, at least I get that for my self esteem.  You guys are all awesome!!)

There has been a lot of silence lately on my part, and for many reasons. 

1. I had another baby in June <3  In some ways this makes me even more fired up and ready to go to war to prove I deserve to be a "normal" mom included in my child's school life just like the other moms; and in some ways this makes me want to pull back and consider whether I want ANY of my kids involved in a system  (This part is tough, because we selected our house for this school system) that teaches this level of exclusion and total lack of forgiveness, despite the fact that over ten years have passed since my non-violent drug arrest (in 2002) and despite the fact that I completed all that the law required of me, and that at no point in time have I EVER been legally restricted from being around kids, and my arrest didn't involve any kids....but depending on the severity, someone with a DUI or domestic violence charge will be approved as a dividend as long as it's been more than 5 years.

2. The PTA board and school staff at my daughter's current school is great, and have found ways for me to help out even though I'm not a "approved dividend" (without breaking any rules or having me around kids, which is a great compromise that should honestly be implemented county wide to accommodate parents such as myself in the event that the current discriminating policy is not changed) Anyway, I would hate to go present to the school board and have the few opportunities I currently get to help out be taken away in retaliation.

3. There is a lot of red tape, research, and organization involved. This requires spare time, which I don't always have available (you know, between all my "non-volunteering" and raising a baby and my other kids and such) I wish I had the time and energy to share all the emails back and forth with various county employees!

I have found some hope in that Pinellas County just changed their volunteer screenings from similar what Seminole's policy says to something more like the minimum required by state statute.  But, gasp, what about the safety of the children? You ask? Never fear, they will still screen the riff raff, but they changed some of the parameters so that someone like myself could actually volunteer after going 10 years without any additional arrests, instead of 25 like it was before (which was still better than Seminole, who has me on the "NEVER" list as if I were a sex offender)

4. Maybe it would just be easier to home school. There, I said it. Maybe rather than trying to fit into this community that wants to shove me as far to the outer edge of our village as it can (and board members quip #ItTakesAVillage while ignoring that a certain portion of the village exists and may be interested in helping out - Last I checked the saying wasn't "It takes most of a village" or "It takes only the good parts of a village") Maybe it would be easier to just teach my kid myself. And in all honesty? A large portion of the material she's covered so far in K, 1, and 2 is stuff she already knew from her dad and I when she started pre-K...so maybe I should just do that. I shouldn't HAVE to, but I'm beginning to wonder if my daughter will be graduated before I have accomplished anything. I'm not a fan of bureaucracy, or idiocracy, or anything else that is slow or inefficient. ;)

One of these days, all the stars will align at the right time and I'll head on down and make my first presentation.  Until then I will leave you with this question:

WHY are we talking about division when we talk about our school volunteers?

Dividend implies splitting something into pieces, or making smaller pieces. I don't think that fits with the Title I requirement for  "encouraging parent participation", which is a shame since we already don't have enough active volunteers as it is. Really, we need all the help we can get, and beggars can't be choosers. 
Is it better/more effective to get 10,000 parents to sign up and add to the total number of dividends yet not put in a single volunteer hour?  Or to deny the application of one volunteer that put in over 250 hours last year even though I am #NotAVolunteer?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

As I conduct my research in preparation to speak to the school board...

I find myself with less time to write about the meeting in which I was told there are zero activities in which I can participate at school as a non-Dividend and the silly runaround of emails it took to get them to actually summarize the discussion afterwards via email.  It was actually kind of comical. One of these days I may get time to write about it in detail.

In the meantime, I thought of an easy way to keep posting and having things for people to consider while I am in this research phase....

Each post, I plan to share one or two (or maybe more, depends how much time I get each day) of the recommendation letters I submitted with my application this year. These are from real people and parents in Seminole County who know me and who (like me) think it is phenomenally stupid that I am on the "not good enough" list to volunteer at my childrens' schools.

Here are a few to start us off...there are plenty, which is why I plan to just post a few at a time. These were either; 1.Never actually read at all, or 2.Read and completely disregarded as insight into my character.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Am I good enough?

Don't we all wonder that?  Apparently I am lucky enough to live in a county where I can be judged and then told whether or not I am, in fact, "good enough".

Tuesday I was given the honor of being reviewed by the “Professional Standards Committee”

What that is, isn’t made exactly clear, except that it is apparently the group of people that get to judge whether or not parents are good enough to be volunteers at the school. 

I was given a perfunctory phone call in which I was told the committee was reviewing my application, but I do not think they were going to tell me I had to be there if I hadn’t asked.

There is no link for the committee on the county website. There is no listing under staff for this department, a posting of their policies, or even a mission statement.  And why I was not granted the ability to speak to them LAST year when I begged the dividend program members, the school board, the superintendent, and everyone I was redirected to in between for appeal or review? 

The policy currently posted on the website (which was NOT posted last year, in case you were wondering) is the same policy they supposedly followed last year.  I can’t be sure since that policy was not posted last year but IF that is the case and the policy is unchanged, then where was my Professional Standards Committee Review last year?? 

Surprisingly, I was one of three women there. One was applying to be a teacher and one to be a dividend.

It was mentioned before the review that all decisions by the committee were final. Yeah, I don’t think so.  When they tell me no, that is just the beginning of the plans I have been waiting all summer to set into motion. Not an end, by a long shot.  It was cute that they tried though. I laughed in my head.
They started their meeting about 10 minutes late (not very "Professional" if you ask me) and I sat for an additional hour before it was my turn for scrutiny.  I may have been outside the room, and I may not have been given the names of those who judged me, but I have ears and I DID hear a man say "Look at me, I'm a hardened criminal!" In what context it was used, I don't know.  But it was heard.

I brought quite a sizeable stack of recommendation letters (thank you ALL) many of which are from moms in Seminole County and some who had children at my daughter’s school and even in her class last year and some printouts of the various endeavors that I currently do, which include a litter pick up team in my neighborhood, fostering baby animals, raising chickens, painting and interior design, and sewing.  I explained that the only way I could think to show them that I am different than the person who got arrested twelve years ago was to simply show them the things that I spend my time doing. 

And that’s it. I waited all day for a phone call and didn’t get one. I was told I could call the next morning so I did, and got voicemail.  This morning I called again and was told that my application was denied (big surprise there) so now I can move ahead with my plans to address the school board.

I wish I didn’t have to waste time on steps that I already know the outcome of. Got to love bureaucracy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The school year is about to begin

The summer is easy. I'm a very motivated and energetic person, so I was able to find/create some volunteer opportunities for the girls and I that were pretty fun. We began the summer fostering a litter of puppies that needed extra special attention (I used to be a veterinary technician so I was able to use those skills to save 5 little dog lives <3)

We only managed one Litter Bug Patrol trash pick up event this summer, but at least we got that one in there. We just go out as a family with our gloves and trash bags and pick a section of street in our neighborhood where we pick up all the trash we can find.  Our first event ever (during last spring break, I believe) we found like 10 tractor tires, a television, a few rolls of carpet, street signs, and several garbage bags full of beer bottles.

We finished off the summer by fostering a litter of tiny orange kittens. I currently have four orange balls of fluff running around my office and bringing joy to every member of my family every day.

Now the time has come to sort through clothes, gather supplies, and meet teachers.

I'm sure everyone has a certain level of anxiety when it comes to meeting new people.  Starting a new school and meeting a bunch of new people is already kind of overwhelming.  Then I have to add a whole extra layer to my anxiety when I wonder what people will think when they learn of my past and my inability to officially volunteer at the school when they, inevitably, find out. Because I can't be myself and eager to help and participate and NOT have it come up, because until the county approves me there are only certain things I can do.

I have to say that there was a group of ladies at last year's school (I certainly hope you know who you are) who went out of their way to make me feel welcome after the school itself made me feel quite the opposite. And I hope it isn't too early to say that I THINK I may have gotten lucky again this year.  School doesn't start until next week and I have already helped out once, and I already see opportunities where I am welcome and excited to help out, and we've already crossed that bridge where I have to tell them all why I can only help with certain tasks.  And you know what? Nobody looked at me like I had three heads or anything like that, so I think we're going to be ok!

Some days are better than others. Today was a good day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If I can be a better me, I won’t be afraid

I know some of you have been waiting anxiously for me to dispel some of the misconceptions tossed out there by a few closed-minded individuals.

For those of you offering positive feedback, and even for those of you who have disagreed or asked me questions but did so as one human talking to another – thank you. For the rest of you, well, maybe I would have been open to a conversation with you if you hadn’t started off with insults.  One can disagree without being rude.  And for a very small percentage of you who took “rude” to an extra special place, and whom I would truly not waste the time to address, except that people have asked me what I am going to say to you….which is, “Troll much?”
Where do we draw the line?
There already IS a line. There is already a team of people judging parents by their past, and already a set of guidelines they follow to do so. Many of the charges listed in the guidelines have exceptions if 5 or 10 years have passed, and I believe that is where people with histories of my nature (nonviolent offenders with no arrests in over a decade) also belong. Not on the list of offenders that are restricted from volunteering in their own child's classroom for the rest of their lives.

Here is the thing…ALL of those offenses I listed in the sentence above are VIOLENT offenders. They are a different category of people than non-violent offenders. Quite honestly part of my decision to speak out was my frustration at being lumped into the same category. I do not belong on the same banishment list as a sex offender. That is nonsense. 

I did not hold anyone at gun or knife point. I didn’t hurt, injure, maim, kill, or kidnap any children (or adults for that matter, I didn’t do these things to ANYone).  I didn’t beat up anyone’s grandma or rape anyone or rob any stores or banks or people.

I am not saying that it was not a completely idiotic thing to do, because clearly I know now that it was, but I simply introduced two people to one another; one person with drugs and one person that wanted drugs (who was apparently being set up by an informant). I honestly had no idea that was a felony offense.  I have heard many times over the years that a “decent” attorney (read: if I had money for a real attorney and not a 3rd string public defender at the time) could have gotten my charge reduced and I would have ended up found guilty of a different charge. Whether or not that would have happened, I may never know.  And that’s ok, I guess.  I accepted my small amount of participation as horrible a long time ago, and decided I can just try to be the best me that I can moving forward. You know? I just try not let it get me down or make me think that I should return to that lifestyle since that is what judgmental people expect of me anyway.  Because ultimately who I am is not up to them, it is up to me.

I served a year in county jail (not prison, there IS a difference) and 3 years of probation.

It was the first and last time I have gotten in trouble, I think I cried for the whole first week in there (contrary to my own preconceived notion, nobody tried to beat me up or even give me a hard time for that, but I digress). I have had zero subsequent arrests since 2002.

Habitual offenders don’t go more than a decade between arrests. I am not one of those either.

I am not a bomber, a bank robber, or even a drug dealer.

I’m just a mom with an exuberant 6 year old girl who absolutely loves learning.

When I was arrested, I did NOT think about how this would affect my children (Sadly, I think it is pretty safe to say I wasn’t thinking much at all at the time). I did NOT think it would affect my ability to participate at my daughter’s school when she was born 6 years ago.  I did not even think it would affect my ability to participate in her school LAST year, when she began pre-k and this very same county let me participate and help with the class.  It was only this year, when she began kindergarten, it has become an issue.

The laws on what constitutes a felony and the laws governing when someone is forgiven for a felony vary widely from state to state. I would LOVE to expunge, seal, or pardon my record and in many other states that would have already been granted.  I am working on that.

I am extremely grateful for all of the positive support. It is not easy to stand up and say I was this person when I was younger, but I feel like it is better to be open about it than to try and pretend it never happened.  Some would probably prefer I beat myself up forever, but I can’t work towards a better future if I just sit around and focus on my past.  What kind of example would that set for my kids?
I am extremely happy that this conversation has been started. I think it is important that the effects of laws against non-violent felons, the various difficulties they face trying to function as a productive member of society, and the challenges in having their rights restored are talked about, and not swept under the rug.

I feel this way even more strongly after hearing from so many parents, both locally and across the country, that are struggling with similar estrangement issues. Many with charges far less offensive than my own.  It helps, knowing you’re there, and knowing that I’m not alone.  I am overwhelmed by how much of the feedback continues to be positive, and I am grateful for the continued support.  Thank you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The things we do for love.....

There was a room parent meeting for me this morning. I always have to fight back anxiety and force myself to go. It has, at times, made me physically ill. I often worry that they will tell me I am not allowed to be a room parent anymore since I have been so far unable to successfully appeal the dividend office's decision to refuse my volunteer application (because of one arrest from 12 years ago that has NOTHING to do with children, but I digress....).

At the second room parent meeting for the year, the room parents turned me away, since I wasn't on the approved dividend list (this was NOT their fault, they are just following the rules and checking off names on a list, it isn't THEIR fault I was not selected as an "approved" parent), and my name happened to have a ------- line through where I was supposed to sign in.
I was hurt and confused, because at the end of the first meeting I had met with the principal and explained that my application had been denied and that I was attempting to appeal that decision. She gave me permission to perform all the functions of being a room parent that did not require direct interaction with children. I remember leaving the meeting when I was turned away, tears streaming down my face as I made my way to the parking lot and found my van. I am glad I took those few extra minutes to compose myself before driving, since I managed to strengthen my resolve and go back in to the receptionist (which was by far one of the hardest things I have done, and I have walked in to a courtroom knowing I wasn't coming back out the front door, and that I wouldn't see freedom for 1-3 years, and this was harder). The receptionist found the principal, who then escorted me quietly and discreetly to the meeting.

I remember how totally normal that meeting ended up being, and how glad I was that I had squashed down my tears and my urge to run away, and gone back to the meeting. I am also eternally grateful for how kind and understanding every parent that I have eventually told about my situation has been. Clearly, I had to explain to the moms running the room parent meeting what had happened. They have been exceptional at making me feel like a regular part of the group.

Every meeting since then, there has been a ----------- line next to my daughter's teacher's name, through the spot where I would need to sign in to the meeting.  I've never been turned away again, but as far as the paperwork is concerned, I was never there.....and I know that is hardly a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it often feels as if someone in that school is going to great lengths to make sure that "unapproved" parents don't feel too welcome.  One of the moms this morning told me that she was afraid I had quit when she saw the line where my name went. I didn't bother telling her how many times I had almost done just that.

I also heard that they are talking about just completely getting rid of parents having lunch with students at all next year.  I now feel a need to apologize to my fellow room moms (and any parents that regularly join their child for lunch now), since that is likely my fault, and a result of the school being (hopefully) unable to make me sit outside for lunch next year after I drew some attention to their newsletter post on the subject.  I guess they are thinking if they can't separate the riff raff,  then just ban lunch for everyone!

I email myself my 2 hours of volunteer time for attending the meeting. I can't log in to the volunteer system so the school doesn't get to count my hours as a volunteer. I email them to myself in the hopes that someday I will get approved, and then all my hours will count too.

 it's time for me to go tie-dye 18 t-shirts for the field trip to the zoo that I won't get to go on after Spring Break, and then we get to start planning for teacher appreciation week and the end of the year party (that I also won't get to attend).  I suppose I could stop torturing myself, but part of turning my life around involves following through on things I sign up for so I consider myself stuck in this obligation until at least the end of this year.  That and I am going to be as involved as they will possibly let me because I love my little girl, I thought I was going to get to be part of her school's community, and it breaks my heart that I can't just function as a normal mom there.
I can honestly say I think they have successfully taken enough wind out of my sails to make sure I don't volunteer for much next year. That's sad. How many other parents have they deflated in this way? It is so hard to stay pumped up to help in the face of so many hurdles to prevent involvement!
 If the parents struggle to stay excited, motivated, and involved about their education, how will the kids stay excited, motivated, and involved?

On that note, I will end today's rant.