Parents are the primary educators of their children, even when entrusting them to Catholic schools. This has implications for school communications with parents, but it also means that parents should be in full agreement with the evangelizing mission of a Catholic school before enrolling a student. It is best when that agreement is in writing.
Parent and school contracts or agreements should detail the mission of the school and the behavioral expectations for those within the school community. They can be separate documents or part of the school handbook, signed and returned to the school. They should explain the duties and requirements of teachers, administrators, students and parents. Parents have the right to know what student accommodations or classroom interventions their child might expect and in what areas the school is unable to accommodate their child.
The parent-school agreement or the handbook signature page acts as a contract between the two parties—the parents and the school—of which payment is only one part. An agreement helps clarify the relationship and school policies, especially those that may be flashpoints for conflict and potential litigation. Rather than shying away from difficult topics, advance agreements prevent confusion, help avoid potential lawsuits and aids the institution in safeguarding its religious mission.
Of course, many situations calling for disciplinary measures cannot be anticipated in advance. No handbook can cover everything, so many times a general clause or statement is entered into the school handbook that states the principal reserves the right to amend the handbook at any time and has final recourse for all disciplinary issues.
The goal is clarity from the Catholic school, helping parents understand the nature of Catholic education and the school’s expectations for parents and students. Surprising families with rules and disciplinary actions after enrollment can upset parents and increase tensions.
Parent-school agreements have the added advantage of helping parents determine for their selves whether Catholic education is the right fit for their children. The admissions process is based on the acknowledgement that not every prospective student can or should be part of the school community. Explaining the school’s mission and expectations before enrollment, so that parents can decide on withdrawing an application based on their inability to sign the parent-school agreement, is a much happier circumstance than having to deny admission—especially if parents remain confused or irate over the decision.
It can also be a good practice for Catholic schools to help parents understand the mission of Catholic education and expectations of students and parents even before applying for admission. A simple form requiring acknowledgement that parents have read certain materials explaining the school’s approach to education can deter those who simply cannot abide by Catholic teachings, preventing the awkward situation of denying enrollment to a student who was initially admitted without knowing the demands of Catholic education.
It is well worth taking these steps to protect and nurture the learning environment, as strong supportive relationships and shared vision among parents and school personnel help facilitate the intellectual, moral, emotional, physical and spiritual development of children.