Are home visits normal?

| 22 Feb 2012 | 03:24

    Depends on the district. But local administrators agree, they’re supposed to be announced, By Becca Tucker Reader responses to the recent suspension of Chester Middle School Principal Ernest Jackson and school psychologist Pam Kavenagh, who in September made an impromptu visit to the home of two boys who hadn’t shown up for school, ranged from shocked “at an adult entering [a] home to hassle … underage kids,” to shocked at the harsh “treatment of a middle school principal and school psychologist who were punished for doing their jobs.” Straus News surveyed seven local school districts to find out whether school employees in this part of the world regularly knock on doors. In two districts, the answer was an enthusiastic yes; in two districts, a decisive no; and in three districts, only in rare extenuating circumstances. While every school district has an attendance policy, few if any have a written policy regarding home visits - but local administrators agree that if a visit is regarding a child’s attendance, it should be announced. Tuxedo Tuxedo School District’s designated intervention specialist, Kelly Fosstviet, who is trained as a guidance counselor, meets occasionally with families that have “put up some flags.” Those meetings are held either at their homes or in a neutral location like a public library, according to Superintendent Joseph Zanetti. Fosstviet— who is sometimes accompanied by another counselor, or in potentially threatening situations, a police officer— would only enter a home if there were an adult in the house, said Zanetti. Such visits happen fewer than ten times a year, he said. Preceding the visit would be a discussion involving the building principal and possibly the superintendent about when and if there should be a home visit and how it should be done, said Zanetti. “She’s not running out on her own, other than for a tragic death,” he said. “Everything else being equal, it’s not a bad thing if you have people supporting families in tough situations. Obviously, there may be circumstances that neither you nor I know about in the Chester case, but generally, from an academic perspective, it makes sense,” said Zanetti. Monroe-Woodbury “It is absolutely not unusual for school officials to visit homes,” said Monroe-Woodbury Superintendent Edward Mehrhof. While there is no one designated attendance officer at Monroe-Woodbury, a teacher-administrator team might make a call to a home if a student is not coming to school, then go to the house to see if the situation warrants calling Child Protective Services for educational neglect. There have been home visits done this year, he said. “We’re mandated reporters.” “To my knowledge, it’s never unannounced,” Mehrhof said. “The whole purpose is to speak to the parent and make sure everything’s okay with the parent or youngster.” Mehrhof used to do surprise visits as an assistant principal at Arlington High School in LaGrangeville. Prompted by a report of a student who didn’t live in the district in which he attended high school, “I would go with a guidance counselor to check residences.” Now, he does a different kind of visit. Right before the Thanksgiving, he delivered food to needy families in the district, and last Christmas, he delivered food, clothes and gifts. ‘We don’t go out into homes’ In Florida School District, if a student is absent, the nurse calls home and either talks to the parent or leaves a message, said Superintendent Douglas Burnside. “We don’t go out into the homes,” Burnside said. “The problem is usually solved before that.” Home visits are “very rare” in Warwick Valley School District, said John Russo, director of physical education, health and safety. Maybe once every two years, Coordinator of Health and Attendance Maggie Adams, along with the school resource officer, go to a home on a request by a parent having an issue getting her child to school. But, he said, “the problem is usually solved before that.” “If we were going to go out, a call would be made to the parent and an appointment set up. In most cases, we would request the parent and student come to the school,” said Russo. But with a new attendance policy this year, which specifies a letter at five days of unexcused absence, another letter from the building principal at 10 days, and then a third, certified letter from the superintendent threatening a report to Child Protective Services if the attendance problem continues, “I don’t think we’re going to have to [make home visits] anymore,” said Russo. In Greenwood Lake, home visits by the school social worker are done “infrequently,” wrote Superintendent Richard Brockel in an e-mail. They’re done “for reasons of illness, to confirm an address, or when a parent can’t make it to school to complete paperwork of some sort. Parents always know we are coming unless it is to confirm an address. Then we would knock and visually identify the resident.” Chester In Chester, where home visits are “minimal,” there hasn’t been one this year other than Jackson’s and Kavenagh’s in September, said Chester Superintendent Sean Michel, who is new this year. When visits do happen, “most times it’s either because we’ve contacted a parent” regarding a child’s poor attendance, “or a parent has contacted us and asked us to help them with a child who refuses to come to school,” he said. Normally, before a home visit, a social worker, psychologist, or guidance counselor would have a conversation with a principal or director of personnel, one of them would reach out to the family to make contact, and the next step would be decided from there, said Michel. “There have been a few occasions where we’ve gone out because we couldn’t make contact with the parents,” said Michel. He would not say whether Jackson’s impromptu visit violated protocol.