'Limited Access Letters' Used Unfairly to Ban Parents From Schools: Critics
East Village mom Stephanie Thompson with her son. Stephanie Thompson
MANHATTAN — A little-known letter that's supposed to be used to protect schools from unruly parents in the wake of aggressive incidents is actually being used to unfairly silence outspoken parents in low-income black and Hispanic schools, critics say.
"Limited access letters," which anEducation Department staffer advised should only be used in case of a “serious incident at the school that required the involvement of School Safety Agents,” have been given out without any apparent oversight or supervision to parents across the city, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The letters, which effectively serve as temporary restraining orders against parents, can be given out by principals or superintendents who feel a parent has threatened them or a staffer in some way.
Once a parent has been given the letter, the school has the right to restrict that parent's access to the school for as long as they see fit. That means parents who receive them must call a school to make an appointment any time they want to visit — and they must register at the front security desk and remain there until a staff member can escort them around.
For those dropping off or picking up their kids at school, they must leave their child with the School Safety Agent at the front desk, according to a sample letter.
But unlike restraining orders, limited access letters don’t need to be vetted by a judge and have no apparent recourse for parents to appeal them.
Many fear these letters are sometimes doled out to push families out of a school and that they are overwhelmingly given to low-income parents of color, who may not know their rights or how to navigate the system on their kids’ behalf.
A white man on her CEC board asked her recently why she remained quiet during so many public meetings. She told him, “When you say stuff as a white man, you’re seen as expressing yourself. You’re passionate. You’re smart and challenging. Whenever I do anything, I’m seen as an angry black woman and aggressive. I’m a 'pit bull.'”
She added that she's been given three limited access letters in the past three years, including once for complaining about her principal and another time for criticizing her superintendent within earshot.
“I’m young and by myself — and think they can run over me,” said Thompson, 25. “The schools bank on us not knowing things and taking advantage of it.”