Early Friday morning, Megan Axelsen dropped off her son at Stephen F. Austin Elementary School in the Gregory-Portland Independent School District.
Axelsen is a member of GP Parents United and told us the group was founded to bring awareness to the lack of family bonds in the district.
This year, the group is focused on reaching a compromise with the school system to allow more parent involvement. They want things like muffins with mom, donuts with dad, grandparents lunch-ins and walking kids to their classrooms on the first day of school.
"Anything that we can preserve those special bonds with our children and be there to support our kids," Axelsen said.
The group has been asking for a policy written on paper from the district for almost four months. GPISD has updated their limited visitor policy on their online handbook for greater clarity.
This includes parent engagement and parent involvement. Parent engagement is volunteering during the school day.
In order to volunteer, parents need to go through a screening process online. Parent involvement happens outside of the school day — like attending performances.
"We understand that many of our families work and aren't able to see their kids receive recognition during the school day," GPISD Superintendent Michelle Cavazos said.
GPISD works with the safety and security team to campus and district leadership. They revisit the policy every year to determine the best approach to maximize student learning and safety.
"It is our district employees. It is not in our school boards view because they lead at a governance level," Cavazos said.
Cavazos told us that with things like awards ceremonies and spelling bees, parents can be partners, while also stressing the importance of learning. Cavazos encourages parents to volunteer when it's tied to student learning.
"We would just like to see it on paper. Otherwise, where is the standard at? Where do we stand because that's just too fluid for us. With a policy, it's in stone," Axelsen said.
Some ideas that the group has come up with to compromise are getting a certain amount of lunch passes a month and signing up to attend a class party.
"We've had to really limit eating lunch with kids during the day to maintain our safety standards and just managing that. We really are trying to safely allow parents whose children are involved in activities to be on campus while following safety procedures. We are thoughtfully planning," Cavazos said.
Cavazos added there has been multiple compromises by maximizing safety and learning.
"Our families do not pose any kind of immediate threat to our children. When it comes to donuts with dad, muffins with mom, I know things like that have come up," she said. "Our campus leadership teams are working on ways to do those activities. Breakfast before the school days. There are ways to do that without impeding or interrupting the learning process for the day."
Cavazos stressed the importance of welcoming that involvement because it is important to the school community. She told us they want to figure out how to do that while keeping learning and safety at the core.
"We have so many brilliant people here at GPISD that I am confident that we can find a safe and secure way and something that respects everyone to bring parents back," Axelsen said.
Axelsen moved here from Houston and heavily looked into districts around the area for her son. They chose GPISD because it was a family-knit community. They shut down their family business so that they could be supportive of whatever their son had the opportunity to participate in.
"There's so many class parties that us parents aren't allowed to attend and those are moments and bonds and core memories that aren't replaceable. You can't put a price tag on that," Axelsen said.
The group is grateful for their amazing district and told us that nothing overshadows that, but they feel stuck. One of GPISD's core beliefs is that parents are true partners; they have a voice and they have high expectations. All the group asks is to be heard and come together with the district to come up with a compromise.
"It may not be for everybody and that's okay but it is for us and for a lot of other families. You stand up for the right thing even if it's not the most popular opinion because it's the right thing, and I feel like this is the right thing. Whether you take advantage of it or not, we hope to find a positive and safe change to all this," Axelsen said.
The group is hoping that other parents stand behind them at next school board meeting. The meeting will be held on Monday, Feb. 27. Axelsen stresses to get there at 5:30. Additional parking will be next to the Gregory Portland Administration building at East Cliff Elementary.
"When we stand together, our voices become loud and we become heard. Then we become the positive and safe change we want to see," Axelsen finished.
For those interested in volunteering, the link to apply is down below.