Brutus” over at the El Paso Speak blog pointed out something in the El Paso Independent School District’s 2014-2015 proposed budget on April 29 that is truly outrageous. There are many issues surrounding EPISD and its budget woes and I am not minimizing the seriousness of the budget discussions and the other problems at the school district by focusing on this one item. However, I have to point it out because I find it outrageous that the school district would even put this in writing, much less actually implement it. The district’s Board of Managers has decided that forcing every student in the district to become defacto political operatives, or worse free labor for special interest groups is something they should focus on. Whatever happened to focusing on the educational basics for the sake of the students? Forced labor should never be the focus of a public school district.

Let us be clear, community service is a good thing only when the participant is doing it because they want to make a difference in something they are interested in accomplishing. Community service, as forced labor, is punitive in nature and has the tendency to be abused by those directing the labor.

The fourth page of the El Paso ISD 2014-15 Proposed Budget, on page four has a list of five “Board Goals – Immediate”. The third item on the list reads; “Beginning with the Fall of 2014, every high school student will participate in community service as part of the EPISD learning experience”.

There are so many things wrong with this “goal” that I don’t know where to begin. Therefore, let’s start with a simple concept. What is the duty of any school district?

Many will agree with me that the school district’s primary function is to give the students the tools necessary for them to be successful as adults. In today’s highly competitive economic environment, everyone needs to have the ability to do arithmetic, including higher math problems, the ability to read and the ability to write. These very basic abilities ensure the student the ability to participate in the greater scheme of life. Without them, a student is unable to participate in the community of their choosing.

After serving those very basic needs to the student body, the school district can then expand into other tools that further prepare the student for their adult life. The ability to understand scientific processes, other languages, making financial decisions and history further prepares a student for life as an adult.

I am not even sure EPISD is capable of giving their students the ABC basics as evidenced by the multiple failures of the student bodies to meet the standards of accountability tests and UTEP having to provide remedial classes just to get students up to speed for freshmen college courses. Therefore, the nice-to-have enhanced tools are fleeting at best for the student bodies.

Without the proven ability to provide students the basics they need to succeed the school district has no business contemplating an enhanced curriculum, especially one completely outside the purview of public education.

Even if EPISD could get its act together, overcoming the overwhelming disregard for their student bodies over the last few years, it has no business forcing students into compulsory service.

Developing social responsibility is the domain of the parent. A school district has no business developing a student’s moral character. The problems of the community are the problems of the adults and not the child. Putting a child to work not only interferes with their childhood but it also deprives them of the tools they need to succeed in adulthood.

The fact is that forced social responsibility is ripe for abuse and children should not be used for political agendas. If a parent wishes for their child to focus on social responsibility that parent has the ability to teach the child what the parent values as social responsibility. A parent could even send the child to a school that emphasizes a certain worldview appropriate to the parent’s wishes.

A publicly funded school district has no business determining what social goal or agenda is acceptable and therefore they have no right to force a child to participate. That is strictly the parent’s domain.

In the case of EPISD, who is going to make the determination that a certain project is worthy of community service and another is not? The board of managers, who are not elected, or an elected body made up of individuals pursuing a specific public policy agenda. Or, the superintendent?

Consider that for a moment. What if Lorenzo Garcia had been able to create a task force of students whose goal was identifying students that were unable to write English properly? Oh wait, he did that, expect he used educators.

How about if he had been able to task students in each school to identify and pressure students into special education classes “for their benefit” focused on learning English. The student task force would have been meeting its “community service” requirements while giving Garcia a current and active list of students to disappear before the next accountability test.

Think it can’t happen? How many of you didn’t considered a superintendent being able to disappear students?

Any “community service” requirement can be subverted as a means to an end regardless of the laudability to the goal. Worse yet, how dare does a group of unelected individuals presume to force a student to work? It is outrageous that we are even discussing this, especially in light of the fact that the school district can’t meet basic accountability standards without disappearing students.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

4 replies on “Outrageous EPISD School Board Goal”

    1. Thank you for pointing it out. You are right I do not have kids in public schools. This is outrageous, although in the case of Ysleta the penalty is not being able to participate during commencement ceremonies. They can forgo community service and still graduate. It is still outrageous. To me it smacks of Hitler Youth and Soviet youth groups.

  1. Students have been asked to do this for years. This is nothing new. For instance, to be in particular organizations, such as National Honor Society, there is a community service requirement. Students in the IB program at Coronado HS HAVE to do community service to be in the IB program and get an IB Diploma. This actually is not uncommon at all. Chicago Public schools require it.

    This has already gone to court, in case you were wondering:

    Steirer v. Bethlehem Area School District in 1993:

    “The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that a district’s 60- hour service requirement amounted to “involuntary servitude” banned under the 1 3th Amendment outlawing slavery. The amendment bans “forced labor through physical coercion,” not service that is “primarily designed for the students’ own benefit and education” by teaching them about the value of community work”(Clemmitt, 84).”

  2. Well said. Parents are in charge of their children, not the schools or the board. We give them to the schools for the day in order for them to teach math, reading, writing, science, and some electives.

    There are electives that involve service and clubs as well. Some may choose to participate, but schools forcing this amounts to government intervention in the private life of the family.

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