The Transylvania Times -

Expanding 'In Loco Parentis'


March 26, 2018

It is great news that the dropout rate for Transylvania County Schools reached .7 percent in the 2016-17 school year. The decrease in dropouts from 41 in 2013-14 to just eight last year is even more remarkable given all of the societal and individual problems external to school that teachers, administrators and support staff confront every day. And it is a testament to the perseverance of those students, who, for all of the difficulties they face, overcome adversity and graduate.

Teachers are often referred to as “in loco parentis,” Latin for “in place of the parents.” The role of teachers as parents can be readily observed in the lower elementary grades where students hug and hold hands with their teachers as they do their parents. Teachers always have taken their role as “in loco parentis” seriously. They have worked hard to meet the needs of their students even if those needs fell far beyond the expected purview of teaching. But problems teachers faced 50 years ago seemed to be of a smaller, more manageable scale. Acts of violence were often relegated to fisticuffs or, at worst, a student using a knife. Bullying occurred only in the physical presence of the bully. Alcohol and cigarettes were health issues, whereas today’s opioid crisis is more lethal.

As the challenges children face seem to have increased, so too has the role of teacher as “in loco parentis.” School personnel now not only teach children, but they also feed them, cloth them, transport them, help them find housing, deal with their drug and mental health problems, protect them, etc.

In this county, many children come to school hungry. Approximately 60 percent of the students in the county qualify for free and reduced lunch. Backpack Buddies, which is supported by local civic organizations, provides food for these needy children over the weekend. And during the summer, the school system continues to provide food to needy students.

Many of these same children, who live below or near the poverty level, have few clothes, particularly the proper clothing to keep them warm during the winter. School personnel and civic-minded individuals have established ways in which to get good clothes to these children.

In recent years, the problem of homelessness among students has been recognized. Transylvania County has more than 100 homeless students. These students have no “permanent home.” They may be sleeping inside in a warm bed, but they do not know where they will be staying from one day or one week to the next. And there are those students who are truly homeless, either sleeping in cars, in the forest or a back room at work.

There are students who have either mental health or substance abuse issues. Jim Deni, a past president of the North Carolina School Psychology Association, said 20 percent of schoolchildren suffer from either a mental health disorder or substance abuse. It has been widely reported that the number of students with autism, suicidal thoughts, depression and ADHD have increased dramatically in the last 20 years.

And then there are those children who are basically raising themselves and their siblings; the only adult structure and security they receive are in school. Outside of school, they are on their own.

Many civic-minded individuals and some government agencies are working hard to help remedy these situations, and their support is greatly appreciated. But it is those who work in the school system who face children with these problems every day.

School personnel did not request this expanded role of “in loco parentis.” Every teacher wishes that all students were well fed, well clothed, well housed and well mannered. They wish that they could focus on teaching. But when a student comes to school without breakfast in a t-shirt and flimsy jacket on a frigid winter morning after having slept on his uncle’s couch the night before, one must do something. And so, educators do what they can to meet that child’s non-academic needs.

And in light of these ever-increasing non-academic needs, it is indeed remarkable what our local schools, with the help of other community members, have been able to do in reducing the number of student dropouts. And it is a testament to the students who have availed themselves of this help from these surrogate parents in order to improve their own lives and futures.


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