Earlier this week I took the boy to pick up his new bike. The next day we rode to the school together. He was so excited. It was like a new level of cool. I could tell other kids were a little jealous and even the school cook yelled out “Cool bike!”
I provided him with a note granting my permission to ride his bike to school, to which the school responded that it was against the district policy to allow kids in his grade to ride to school on a bike.
I was pissed* because they hadn’t even asked any questions (even though I specifically invited them to call me if they had any and included two numbers). I immediately left a message for the principal wasn’t really sure what to do. First thing I needed to do was find that policy. If it wasn’t on the books and publicly available, they really wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. I also emailed Free-Range kids, to get some other ideas from the free-range community before I had my next conversation with a school admin. There were a bunch of great suggestions, most of which echoed the do your homework, contact the board, do it anyway and find somewhere to lock the bike off campus. (Thanks Free-Range Kids!)
Then I started to think about whether or not it was really worth the fight. Was it something we really needed or was it just me fighting the system (I have a tendency to want to make my own rules). I decided this was something the boy and I needed for a few reasons:
1. I don’t have a car
2. I use a combination of bike/bus as transportation
3. I would be riding with him
4. The after-school getting home from the after school program takes longer by bus, than by bike
You see, beyond my objections as a free-range parent, I had some good reasons to fight this policy. So I sent an email to the school board and the superintendent explaining my situation and asking that they be willing to consider my case. I kept digging around for the policy and couldn’t find it. I also sent him to school with the bike the following day. If there was no policy, they couldn’t really say no. Before I left work, I put in a call to the school board office. Bureaucrats have a tendency to drag their feet, so I wanted to speak to someone as quickly as possible (don’t worry, I wasn’t all panicked on the phone, I just wanted to talk to a human).
As I was making my commute to work I received a call from the principal. She was sorry but this was the district policy and it was her job to enforce it. I tried to explain my situation: but I ride with him and I don’t have a car, this is how we will get home together when I’m picking him up. And I would need her to show me the policy. She had quick responses: even if I rode with him, he couldn’t lock his bike on campus and ride home by himself and even if he didn’t ride home by himself, the bike could not be locked on school property. It is the policy. If I wanted to fight it, I could go to the school board (I don’t think she really expected me to do it).
I found myself feeling sorry for her, thinking that she was just an enforcer. The principal had no real power (or so it seems) to examine individual circumstances (I think mine were compelling) and make rare exceptions on a case-by-case basis. That evening the boy handed me the policy documentation, but somehow I knew this would work in my favor.
So today, I sent him with his bike anyway. And this afternoon, I got the call that the school board agreed to my request, granted the boy obeys the rules and I ride with him in the morning.
I thanked the principal for working with me and told her to have a great weekend. When I picked the boy up, he did a little victory dance. I was relieved to have successfully bended the rules and not just because I had an abstract philosophical objection. It might not work for everyone, but for me, I feel like this saved my life.
* I have to admit that I’m not in favor of quite a few school policies. I think kids have way too much homework, uniforms take away their freedom of expression (yes I let my kids pick their own clothes), NCLB is not working, teachers have no creative freedom and the public school system is meant to socialize kids into being worker bee drones. I do a lot of reprogramming and deprogramming.