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Del Valle ISD

We don't need no stinkin' PTAs

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 13, 2009

Bernard Blanchard
Bernard Blanchard

On its website, the Del Valle Inde­pendent School District says it "values ALL forms of parent involvement." Yet parents are finding there is one form that the district administration doesn't value highly enough to allow on campus: parent-teacher associations. After being rebuffed in her efforts to establish PTAs to assist staff and students, Del Valle Elementary School parent Liliana Orozco said: "Why don't they want us to get organized on our own? I just don't understand, and the other parents are baffled."

Covering much of southeast Travis County, Del Valle ISD faces complex challenges. Even though it achieved "recognized" status in the state's latest accountability ratings, 27.5% of its 2008-09 enrollment of 9,555 students were classified by the Texas Education Agency as having limited English proficiency and 79.2% were classified as economically disadvantaged. Determined to help out on campus, Orozco tried to join her local PTA but found there wasn't one at any of the district's 12 schools. Convinced that she could find the 20 parents required to form a PTA and that additional parents would pay the required $4 annual fee, she tried to get the administration to assist this new parent initiative.

Yet at successive meetings with Del Valle Elementary School Principal Bertha Hernandez, the board of trustees, and Superintendent Bernard Blanchard, parents got the same message: The district doesn't have PTAs and so far has rejected all requests to formally discuss the matter at the board level. Orozco said, "They don't seem to be interested in finding out what good a PTA can do for the district."

Texas PTA Executive Director Kyle Ward called the administration's push-back "stronger than anything I have seen in my three-and-a-half years here." He said Blanchard had told him that here had been independent parent-teacher organizations, but they had fallen apart over funding and nonprofit tax status issues – two decades ago. Now each campus has a parent-involvement committee, operated by the administration. Del Valle ISD Communications and Community Relations Director Celina Bley explained, "Each campus meets with parents and talks with parents about different upcoming events and volunteer opportunities."

Since the Texas Education Code specifically allows for multiple parental groups on campus, establishing PTAs wouldn't require disbanding the parent-involvement committees. However, in a statement, Blanchard told the parents, "We don't see the need for competing groups and especially don't want parents to feel like they have to pay dues of any amount to be involved."

But Orozco said the PICs are indicative of the district's top-down approach to parental involvement. She attended the Del Valle Elementary PIC meeting on Oct. 13 – one of only three planned for the entire school year. The meeting was scheduled for 8am ("What we want is a real relationship with the teachers," she said, "but the teachers were in the classrooms"), and she was disappointed to find that, rather than a discussion, there was just a list of school events that the district had already organized and for which they needed volunteers. She said: "There was a feeling that they really didn't want our input. They had their activities, and that was it."

The Texas PTA backs the Del Valle parents' call for their own associations because of the additional parental education programs and support they can provide. Ward said, "It's not just about raising money but about making sure that parents have a voice and are visible in their child's education." He added, "[Blanchard] feels like his parent-involvement committees suffice for a parent-run organization, but it appears to us that they are more district-run." That might violate the Texas Education Code, Ward said. "Section 26.001 talks about your parent organizations being parent-run. So I guess the question comes into play: Is [Del Valle] in compliance?" (The district counters that there is no such requirement and that its current policy in which it agrees to "cooperate" with such groups complies with state law.)

Since the Del Valle parents started campaigning, there have been positive steps from the district. The parental-involvement link is now highlighted on every school website, and there will be organizational meetings a week before every event, rather than just having parents sign up and turn up on the day. Orozco called these changes "great, but we still want PTAs." So the parents petitioned for a discussion of PTAs to be placed on the agenda for the Nov. 17 trustees meeting. That agenda should be posted Nov. 13, and Orozco said she hopes that a discussion may answer an important question: "If there is resistance on the board, from whom and why?" Until then, she and the other parents will keep working with the parent-involvement committees, "because we want to be involved, however it is done."

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