Red pencil on desk.

Your Child Is Very Important to Our Database

  1. Kindergarten Anxieties

The first day of kindergarten can be tough on any parent. I thought I would cry like a baby when I saw their short legs struggling to climb the steep school-bus steps, little backpacks bouncing on their tiny shoulders. At that moment, it’s as if the world is taking them away, never to be kids again. But I didn’t expect to feel like crying when I saw the 13 pages of repetitive, silly, strange, bureaucratic busy work required to register them.

That’s when I realized they weren’t just taking steps into an inevitable, separate adulthood—they were being sucked into a machine.

We live in a reasonably large school district—in fact, the 16th largest one in the country, and the largest in North Carolina. Wake County Public Schools is the combined city-county district for Raleigh, the state capital, and its surrounding cities, towns, and countryside. In the current school year, the district teaches about 157,000 students across 171 schools, supported by nearly 19,000 employees and a $1.4 billion budget.

It’s easy to worry that your child might get lost in such a huge system; each kid represents 0.00001 percent of the student population. Will the classrooms be too big? Will the teachers have time to pay attention to my child’s individual needs? Our local elementary school has 1,100 students; my high school wasn’t much bigger.

But based on what they want to know about my soon-to-be kindergartner, I’m a little worried they won’t even remember her name.

  1. Please Fill Out These Forms and Stop Complaining

The school systems’s kindergarten enrollment packet is 13 pages long, but that’s just to start. The cover page notes that parents with entering kindergarteners are required to fill out these forms and also bring along the following materials to registration: (a) parent/guardian photo ID; (b) proof of residence; (c) a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate; and (d) immunization records. That makes it 17 pages of materials—a somewhat unwelcoming blizzard of paperwork. Of course, the cover page mentions that I should check out the Wake County website for more enrollment information. That made me nervous, so I decided to focus on the enrollment packet first.

The cover page welcomes parents with this message:

“We are committed to preparing our students to be productive citizens, graduating ready for college or career. That process starts now.”

Geez. I thought they would just teach her to read.

Ignoring this opening salvo, I took a deep breath, told myself not to worry, and dove in.

The first form in the enrollment packet is the “Student Data Sheet.” Right below where it says “Student Data Sheet,” it says “Page 1 of 3.” This is immediately concerning. The school system doesn’t seem to know what a plural is.

Page 1 of 3 of the student data “sheet” tells you to complete this form for each child you are enrolling, and where to find a complete list of items required for enrollment on their website. My concern grows. Should I check the website to see if there are required items that are not already listed on the cover page? It seems pretty important. The message is in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Thai (?), Korean (?), Vietnamese (pretty sure), and Chinese/Japanese/Mongolian (one of those). I take that back: one of these is probably Hindi. Doubly important: they are aiming these instructions at the better part of humanity.

I’m sure it’ll be fine (breathe, breathe). Just fill out these forms, and we’ll be good to go.

Okay, data entry begins: there are sections for the child’s details and for the family’s name and address. The child section asks for her name, date of birth, sex, home phone number, current grade, whether the child is Hispanic/Latino, and race. These latter two requests are parenthetically labeled “This information is used for U.S. Census data.” I understand that: I happen to be an education researcher, and I use federal data all the time; states are required to report gender and race/ethnicity counts of students in their schools. Yet this message seems to say: “We, Wake County, aren’t using these data. We don’t even want these data. We could care less if your child is distinct in any way, or even has a name worth remembering. But the U.S. Census has asked for us to categorize your child, so we must reluctantly ask you for these small pieces of information. Please don’t blame us. Blame the U.S. Census. Don’t we all hate the U.S. Census? Jerks.”

In the family information section, they ask for the names of siblings (providing separate spaces for school-age siblings and non-school-age siblings; why do they want the names of siblings who are not even in the school system?), home address, apartment or suite number (do people who live in suites even send their children to public school?), mailing address if different from home address, and “with whom” the student resides. I’m feeling better. They know about accusative case. Fortunately, they don’t ask for home phone number, since that was asked above, in the student information section, as if the kindergartner has her own home.

At the bottom of page 1 of 3 of the student data “sheet,” there is the standard innocuous “For Office Use Only” section. I’ve always been curious what the Office would do if you filled this out yourself. Hm…I know the registering school—definitely could get that right. School number? Maybe I could look that up. Entry date? I could nail that easily. Entry code? Oh, dear. Is my child an E2? R6? Maybe my child is a special, precocious R1!? I’ll just circle all of them. PowerSchool #? What is that? I’ll hazard a guess: 5. Teacher? “Mrs. Bumgartener.” Track? I’ll guess “Robot.”

Phew! That was a lot. Now on to page 2 of 3 of the “Student Data Sheet.”

Contact information: parent/guardian legal names, phone numbers, address…wait, didn’t they literally ask for my address (physical and mailing) on the previous page? Which do I report here if they are different? No matter: I don’t live in a PO Box. Then there are sections for up to five parent/guardians here. What if the child has a father, mother, step-father, step-mother, foster mother, and foster father? Where does the foster father go? Why, again, am I entering my address again? Isn’t this literally part of the same student data “sheet?” My worries deepen. Just keep moving.

Page 3 of 3 of the “Student Data Sheet:”

  • emergency contact’s name and phone number—maybe you could list your au pair who sits around your suite waiting to be emergency contacted.
  • school history—IEP, 504 plan, language spoken at home, Title 1 services received, and whether the child has ever attended a Wake County school (name of school and dates), a North Carolina school (name of school and dates)—if different, I suppose—and, separately, the last school (with just dates) the child attended—if different from the rest, I suppose.
  • health information—“Note any unusual physical conditions such as convulsion disorders, severe allergies or any condition for which the school should extend extraordinary care”—followed by a large blank space. I have some legitimate concerns now—they didn’t use an Oxford comma.
  • Consent for Release of Information—a signature authorizing the school system to contact the people who are legally responsible for care of the child. Yes, yes—please contact me about my own child. Thank you.

Next up: Transportation Service Request. I’m just going to copy the instructions part, so you can see what it looks like:

wake-transportation-request

Then I fill out the request (two lines).

Then—I suppose so they can be very certain—I fill out my name and address again. I’ve already filled this out twice. Then I fill out the student’s name and address. I have already filled this out only once, so filling it out one more time makes total sense.

At the bottom of the Transportation Service Request (I get the distinct feeling I am being discouraged from requesting any transportation), there is the requisite “For Office Use Only” section. “Name of Staff Member?” I’ll just put “Mr. Kinderkidder.” The Office may get a hoot out of that one.

Next page: McKinney-Vento Questionnaire. What is this?

wake-mckinney-vento

Oh, sure. Everyone knows Act 42 U.S.C. 11431 et. seq.

The form actually just asks the student’s name, date of birth, and sex (which I have written only twice so far—perfectly reasonable to ask again); PowerSchool # (huh? That was listed under “For Office Use Only” on page 1 of 3 of the student data “sheet”); if the student lives in a motel, shelter, car, park, campsite; with which specific combination of parents/legal guardians the student lives (see page 2 of 3 of the student data “sheet:” deduction is not their strong suit); and, for the fourth time, the parent’s name and address (including suite number, if applicable, and which, if provided earlier, probably indicates the child is not living at EconoLodge with “Margaux”, the emergency contactable au pair).

Okay, done! We are making progress! Seven pages to go!

Next up: Home Language Survey! It begins with the student’s name and date of birth. Just the fourth time they’ve asked that—I completely understand the need to ask again. Then there are a series of questions about country of birth, language spoken at home, and any translation or interpretation needs.

Yes, yes: please translate this enrollment packet into sense.

  1. Almost Done! Please Keep Telling Us Things We Already Know

Next up: Kindergarten Parent Observation Form! Page 1 of 2.

First, it asks for the student’s name, who they live with, and date of birth—variously asked for the fourth or fifth time, which is very understandable. Then they ask for the names and ages of the child’s brothers. That seems weird, but then they ask, separately, for the names and ages of the child’s sisters. That seems weirder, but then the next line says: “List others living in the home.” That seems especially weird, but then they ask for the names, ages, gender, and species of all foster or adoptive pets living in the home. Wow! But I’m just kidding—did you believe me there for a second? To be fair, in a “health information” section, there are two legitimate lines about whether the kid attended preschool or received any intervention services like counseling or speech therapy.

Then the form asks about “general health information,” which I guess is different from the “health information” that was asked about immediately before. This one’s general health information, so clearly it’s different. Again, to be fair, there are specific questions about medications, hospitalizations, traumas or family stress (e.g., relocations; I wonder if filling this out counts), whether the child was a full-term baby (!), or, best of all, “any concerns” about the child’s development.

Yes—yes—I am concerned about the school system she is about to attend.

Kindergarten Observation “Form” Page 2 of 2 continues in this inexplicable vein, asking about language/literacy development, personal/social development, and “other information.” I’m not sure what’s best here: the question about whether the child plays well “with at least one child” (only one: the rest of them she tries nail to the wall, so no need to mention that); whether the child shows “concern for using materials and equipment safely and appropriately?” (she always puts the hammer back); whether the child cries often (define “often”); and whether the child “continue[s] an activity without constant attention and encouragement” (hammering other children and crying: both yes).

In the “Other information” section, the school system helpfully asks what I would like them to know about my child, and what I would like my child to gain from Kindergarten. One, my child is human. Two, I guess I expect her to be college and career-ready? Is that the right answer? I hope that includes teaching her to write her letters.

The next page is the Privacy Release. There is a half-page of instructions, a request for the student’s name (request number six—they are going to learn this child’s name, I know it), and authorization to release the child’s name or image in the media. Since the school system will probably have to ask me to fill out another form asking for the child’s name before that happens, sure.

In fact, a better option would be to just stitch my name and address on the back of all my child’s clothes, and my child’s name and address on the front of all of my child’s clothes. That way, as she moves throughout the school day, all of the people in the school system who have no idea who my child is, yet need a form filled out, can simply refer to the informational sequins.

Next: Verification of Child Custody. First, it asks for the child’s name (an eminently logical seventh time), then asks me to confirm that I, who have been filling out this packet for the past twelve hours, am indeed the legal custodian of the student whose name I have now written down seven times. Nope! Guess I should have done this form first!

Then comes the “Consent for Technology and Digital Resource Use.” The instructions here are three-quarters of a page long. Let me just give it to you:

wake-technology-release

Here they ask for (guess what) the child’s name! Number eight, and more reasonable than all the other previous ones combined. Also the child’s student ID, which, like the odd PowerSchool # box, was previously in a “For Office Use Only” section. My answer: 1. Then I either grant permission for my child to use every single possible technology or digital resource in the school system, or deny permission for my child to use any single technology or digital resource in the school system. Very clear. If only some of the instructions were in Luddite. Maybe Luddite Comic Sans, so it could be clear the school system is making fun of you.

The next page is the last! Glory, glory halleluia! Oh my goodness, I spent less time applying for college.

But this page throws me for a loop. It’s not formatted like the others—there is no lengthly instruction section or IRS-like boxes to fill out. It’s a letter with a table someone could have made in WordPerfect. The letter asks if an immediate family member is part of the military. Then it asks me to write my child’s name on a rather casual underline. Since this is formatted in such a simple, innocent way, I am happy to answer it for the ninth time. I confess to being a little annoyed that the letter starts “North Carolina Session Law 2014-15 requires the NC State Board of Education / NC Department of Public Instruction to collect information on military-connected students…” It’s as if Wake County is saying: “We don’t actually care whether your child has a parent in the military. The state is making us ask this. The state has so many silly rules. Don’t you just hate the state of North Carolina, in which you live? Bunch of jerks.”

Finally! All done! But I should really check the website. Should I check the website?

Oh, crap. I have to get my doctor to fill out a two-page Kindergarten Health Assessment. I have to fill out my name and address again, the child’s name and birth date (birth date on first and second page, in case, I’ll venture, they forget about the birth date by the time they get to the second page), child’s gender and race/ethnicity again, zip code, and assent to allowing my doctor to gossip about my kid with school officials, and consent to allow the state Department of Health to collect this data “to better understand the health needs of children in NC.”  At least the doctor’s office has to fill out the rest.

Finally! Now I’m done!

This took me approximately eight years to accomplish. My kindergartner is actually in seventh grade now. They still don’t know her name, but every now and then, they encouragingly send me a random form that just asks me to write her name over and over. One of these days, they’ll get it, and after that, they can start to learn her gender. I admit it’s confusing, because her name doesn’t end in a vowel. Perhaps there’s an entry box that allows me to specifically indicate this non-standard fact. I would like to fill it out four or five times.

Honestly, I’m just glad I don’t have an older kid transferring into Wake County Public Schools. The grade 1-5 transfer packet is 14 pages long. The grades 6-12 transfer packet is 18 pages long—and one page asks for the student’s address twice—ON THE SAME PAGE.

  1. We Welcome You to Our Educational Machine

Of course, I’m using humor as a defense mechanism here. In fact, I don’t even know how long it actually takes to fill out the kindergarten enrollment packet, because there was no way in the world I was going to fill that out. My wife did that. Moms are amazing. She is recovering.

But I’m not joking around when I say that I’m concerned about a school system that seems to think about children as pieces of data that need to be punched in; that takes an odd interest in the names and ages of all of the child’s siblings; that pretends to disavow any interest in your child’s race or ethnicity, or whether one of the parents is in the military, even though they clearly want and need that information; that generally follows some of the worst bureaucratic practices one can imagine in order to make their life easier, instead of making families’ lives easier.

A large school district like Wake County is assuredly difficult to manage, and understandably needs a lot of information to be certain that no child’s needs go unmet; but to greet parents with an unnecessarily lengthy, repetitive, ominous set of forms is not the best way to go about welcoming them and their wobbly, wide-eyed, innocent kids to the start of school.

It’s the nature of parents to over-react and over-worry; in the scheme of things, these silly forms are pretty minor. What the forms may say about life in these schools could be another thing. I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and I’m also not joking around when I say that, tomorrow, my wife will have to fill out the kindergarten enrollment packet again, gather all of the supplementary materials, and prepare for another assessment by the doctor.

We have twins, so we have to do this twice.

3 thoughts on “Your Child Is Very Important to Our Database

  1. Of course the school system wants you to know that the state or federal government requires this notification/information. They don’t want you to hate THEM for all these questions. By the way, do you think if the system could combine some of this info in a data document online, the great state of North Carolina would have a little money left over to give to their public schools?

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