Student Well-Being

Shift in After-School Programs for Florida District Ignites Parent Pushback

By Laura Heinauer Mellett — October 23, 2013 2 min read

After-school programs are at the center of a fierce controversy in a school district near Naples, Fla.

Parents in the Collier County district are upset after school officials decided to allow campus administrators to choose new after-school programs. According to news reports, including this one from a local CBS affiliate, some elementary school principals decided to stop using a popular outside vendor called Sports CLUB and replaced it with school-run programs that the parents say are more expensive and and focus more on school work than physical activity.

“It goes back to [the fact that] we’re paying for the service and we should be able to select the service we’re paying for,” Erika Donalds, one local parent, told the station.

Tensions were apparently at their peak at a school board meeting last week, where board members were discussing policy changes that would affect the programs. Parents, who were concerned about how the district sought input on the new policy, yelled and booed. In a report by a local newspaper that’s available by subscription only, the board chair shot back saying she’d rather not be in the after-school business.

Donalds, who is the founder of the group Parents ROCK, said she believes that, in fact, the district actually does want to be involved in the after-school business so that it can get the revenue that comes with it.

“Everyone wants a piece of the pie when it comes to the money,” she told me in an interview this week. “But it’s hard to collaborate when one side isn’t being honest about what they are trying to do.”

The district, meanwhile, has said that its rationale for moving the after-school offerings in-house is to both expand the academic focus and better ensure the safety of students. A final vote on the changes is still to come.

This is, of course, not the first time there has been debate over what after-school programs should look like. But this case is interesting both because it raises questions about the extent to which after-school programs should focus on academics and because parents are demanding to have more involvement in their selection (and design). Should such programs necessarily have a strong academic component? Should something be done to to make it a creative environment so kids don’t feel like they are just sitting in class longer? Should parents at least have the choice for an after-school program on campus that is focused on other activities that let kids burn off pent-up energy when the regular school day is over?

Donalds said since the controversy began, her group has gotten involved in other causes and members have started seeing themselves as a kind of parent union, standing up for their interests as opposed to those of the school board and teachers’ unions.

“We started branching out into other issues that are symptoms of the same problem,” she said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.