How I tried (and failed) to be on the PTA…

 

How-I-tried-(and-failed)-to-be-on-the-PTA2

When my son started kindergarten I tried to join the PTA. We were living in California at the time and I dutifully attended the first PTA meeting. I signed up to be a volunteer. I checked the boxes for a handful of roles that I’d be able to help with. I wrote a special note to let them know I build websites for a living so that they could ask me to help them with their site or group emails or other technology endeavors.

As the year progressed I was never contacted by the PTA. They never reached out to me to join a committee or participate in any of the tasks I volunteered for. Eventually I found a way to volunteer at the book fair a few times. Beyond that I just ended up volunteering directly with my son’s teacher. I helped weekly with the computer lab and art classes. I found a way to get involved, but it wasn’t with the PTA.

Then last year we moved to Florida and my son started first grade. A new school, a new opportunity. Once again I attended the PTA orientation meeting and volunteered to be on a handful of committees. I went online and filled out the Orange County Public Schools ADDitions volunteer application and I got the extra TB shot that’s required for Florida school volunteers. I tried to get involved but, once again, nobody ever contacted me. Once again I forced my way into volunteering at the book fair a few times. Beyond that I just helped my son’s teacher directly, as field trip chaperone and with a few classroom parties.

This year I thought I’d try again. Our neighborhood was getting a brand new elementary school which meant a brand new PTA. I immediately signed up to be on the newly formed PTA board. I was hoping to do more and I was hoping it’d be better. I figured joining the PTA board would be my opportunity to get in on the “ground floor.” I wanted to help build a more welcoming group. I wanted to build a PTA that actually reached out to all the parents that volunteered. I wanted to be part of a PTA that listened and acted on what parents said.

I attended the first board meeting and offered up all of my technical talents. I was named the Head of Communications. I was so excited. I went home and built the news school’s PTA Website the next day and got them all setup with email newsletters, Google Apps for sharing documents and everything else we’d need to be a great new PTA.

It didn’t take long for the landscape to look familiar.  At our first board meeting, I recommended that we replace the existing “spirit night” fundraiser restaurant partner. (“Spirits Nights” are fundraisers held by the PTA where the school families are asked to eat at one particular restaurant one night a month; and in exchange for the mass patronage, the restaurant donates a percentage of sales to the school’s PTA.) The existing “spirit night” partner had nothing vegetarian on the menu and has a history of funding controversial political causes. I wanted to see the new school pick a new partner, one that had no known political allegiances and one that had a vegetarian-friendly menu.

Well, that did not go well. The new board co-presidents said that right now they were planning to stick with the same partner. They said they wanted to do that because it’s what everyone is used to. This confused me since we’re a new school. Nobody was used to anything yet. It seemed to me to be the perfect time to try going a different direction.

They did not agree. Maybe one day they would change it, they said, but not right away. Instead they went and planned the first school event, a “meet the new principal” night, at this same restaurant. Ugh. I was infuriated.

I was at a crossroads. I wanted to give everything I could to this new school and the new PTA. I was ready, willing and able. All I asked is that my concerns be heard and, hopefully, acted on. I offered to help find the new spirit night partner, as did another friend of mine also on the board. No dice. They weren’t budging.

Since many of the PTA board members had “friended” me on Facebook, I thought I’d try another angle. I decided to revisit some articles that I read that explained why this restaurant was “not so friendly.” I posted and shared these articles on my personal Facebook page, figuring they’d see them and maybe take the time to consider these other views. Maybe I could get them to see my cause for concern and agree that it’s worth considering an alternative partner for the new school.

Boy was I wrong! Instead of sympathy.. or empathy.. or any newfound level of understanding, I got a barrage of emails from the co-presidents of the new PTA board. They told me that I cannot be on the PTA board and share articles on my personal Facebook page that are disparaging to any PTA business partners. They wanted me to stop sharing those views on my personal page… or resign.

Needless to say a lot of heated emails were exchanged after that. At first I wanted to force them to vote me off the board. I wanted to make a statement and have it clearly known that this new board voted out a willing volunteer over this issue, and only in its first two weeks of life.

Instead I went on vacation. We went to Europe for a few weeks (this was back in June) and when I returned I realized that there’s just no changing people sometimes. It’s not worth fighting over. I decided to just walk away.

I wanted to volunteer and make a difference but this new PTA board only wanted me to volunteer and make a difference on their terms. It was clear that I was fighting a solo battle against this new PTA clique. Nothing I said or did would make a difference. If I wanted to stay on the PTA, I’d have to quiet my own voice, in my own life, with my own friends, and make it align with theirs.

I wasn’t willing to do that.

So now my son is in the 2nd grade at the new school and I am not on the PTA board. I’m not involved with the PTA at all. I’m not volunteering. I’m not chipping in. I’m not attending meetings. If anything, I’m boycotting the PTA and their activities. It’s not hard to do. They keep having Spirit Nights at that same restaurant where we can’t eat anyway.

The only thing I do, to keep true to my calling, is emailing the principal each and every time they plan one of these Spirit Night events to remind her that my family would love to attend and support the school but, because we are vegetarian, there’s nothing for us there so we can’t. We’ve been excluded.  Just a friendly reminder. A constant, friendly reminder. That’s all I can do it seems.

Now that I know how things work at the PTA. I guess being on the PTA is like being part of the popular clique in school. Either you’re “in” or you’re “out.”

Clearly, I’m out.

 

(For the record, I’ve used the term PTA throughout this piece. My son’s school is not part of the nationwide PTA. Their group is technically a “PTO” which means it’s independent, for better or worse, of the overarching PTA organization.)

 

27 Responses to How I tried (and failed) to be on the PTA…

  1. Amy
    Amy January 27, 2016 at 6:33 am #

    Oh my gosh! This is exactly my interactions with my kids’ pita at their elementary school. Different topic but same exclusion! Mine involved a simple change to grown up/child dance from father daughter dance so kids who don’t have dads at home could feel welcome. Total melt down shouting match by pita president and I never went back. They just could not understand the concept I was trying to get across. These groups are so cliquy it’s crazy!!!

  2. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth January 27, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    I’ve not had your experience in suggesting a change and being run off, but I have found that the same moms are room moms and committee chairs every.single.year. In their defense, they do work hard, but – unless you are a SAHM with lots of free time, it’s very hard to break in the pack. I have found, like you, that volunteering directly with my girls’ teachers has been best. Plus, I admittedly don’t have the patience for long drawn out meetings.

  3. Nicole February 1, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    Best article ever – with at 22 year old, a 14 year old and a 6 year old. Been there done that, different schools, different states, different grades…..same outcome.
    I even tried to implement new ideas and be on the committee for a graduation week function. That was just PTA Mom’s at a new level.
    “Bless their hearts”

  4. Hal February 1, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    Schools and PTA organizations are just self-preserving bureaucracies. The government is the natural enemy of the people, they are not your well-intentioned big brother. Why, oh why do we hand our kids to the enemy for 6 hours a day for programming? In my case it’s that I can’t afford to do otherwise. But soon we will leave the government kid factory for good and I’ll get her a real education.

  5. Kay T February 1, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    I thought this might resonate with some of my personal experiences when I saw the title, but it seems to me there was clearly no changing the writer’s mind, either. It was her way or the highway. She had a personal beef (or in this case, chicken) to grind and if others didn’t agree, she was going to be proudly passive-aggressive through Facebook posts about getting her own political points across (while claiming politics shouldn’t be part of the process). It’s funny how what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander. The article could more accurately be titled “How I tried (and failed) to change the PTA.” Not everything is either this or that. Why not suggest a compromise of adding another restaurant to Spirit Nights while not banning ones already popular and presumably doing well for the school? I also don’t see the need to change Daddy Daughter dance nights, as another comment suggested, so as to include everyone. I was a single mom for many years and didn’t feel everyone else had to change their events so my kids weren’t ever left out. Daddy Daughter nights are special and important and should be celebrated. If the daughters have an uncle or grandfather or any male role model, I’m sure they’d be welcome to attend. We don’t need to water down every event to include all people. Political correctness overload!

    • Megan February 3, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

      Agreed. This is exactly what I thought as I read. Anyone working within an organization has to respect that fact that different people have different ideas and compromise is key. The author does not seem to understand this. I agreed with everything KayT said except for the daddy/daughter dances. These should be changed as I find the idea of “dating” your dad very odd. Maybe its an American thing but I think a nice family dance that everyone can attend would be much more widely enjoyed.

      • Laura
        Laura February 3, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

        I totally agree compromise is key. The heads of this PTA did not want to compromise, however. They were unwilling to change or try anything new. They could have agreed to try a new venue (especially since we were a brand new school with no set partnerships in place) and see how it did. If it made more than Chik Fil A, then go with that new partners. If not, then revisit Chik Fil A for monetary reasons They weren’t open to that however. It was Chik Fil A, period, end of story. A true shame since Chik Fil A is not only not-vegetarian friendly but also comes with a load of anti-LGBT baggage that, in my view and the view of most modern thinkers, makes it an inappropriate public school partner to begin with. Thanks for weighing in though! Happy to have people thinking and chiming in, particularly when done respectfully. 🙂

        • Laura
          Laura February 3, 2016 at 11:00 pm #

          Unfortunately Chik Fil A has gone beyond being vocal and their corporate charity organization has funded anti-LGBT organizations. Do a google search to learn more. They’ve scaled back since the boycotts of 2012 but it’s still unclear how their profits are spent.

          It’s ine thing for an individual to have beliefs and it’s another for a corporation to fund those anti-equal rights views. Until the CFA corporation is proven to not only no longer fund anti-LGBT activities, I think it’s inappropriate for a public school to partner openly with them. It sends the wrong message to the children who should be raised to respect everyone equally.

          Anyway. Thanks for the input. It sounds like kids love the place. If they could reverse their anti-equality history AND offer real vegetarian choices (a la Chipotle’s sofritas and Pei Wei’s tofu choices and dozens of other examples) then maybe I’d be more appreciative of their good deeds for schools.

          • Jason February 8, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

            Instead of attempting to try to change a whole group, one idea is to try one-on-one discussions with people to understand why they are against your ideas. People are less likely to gang up/bully in a on-on-one situation. You might have already taken this tactic, of course. And there is no guarantee they won’t just say “because I want it this way” as well. But you might have a better ideas as to why, and have the opportunity to engage, understand, and possibly change minds. Just something to consider.

  6. Brook February 1, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    I’ve experienced similar, be it PTO or my child’s soccer team. What I found on those instances, is that the mean moms were teachers! Yes, you read that right. Of all people, a teacher sees this more than any other person. If you weren’t a SAHM or a teacher, you were an outsider. We even had one parent gripe us out for not doing enough to raise money for their child (underprivileged). That particular parent rarely showed up to fundraisers and did not make their child help raise money. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! Screw ’em, they can do the volunteer work and maintain their high school clique – I’m going to hang with my kid and donate my time, money, and resources where it is genuinely appreciated.

    • Laura
      Laura February 1, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

      Absolutely agree! Thanks for your support!

      • sari shaw February 8, 2016 at 8:38 am #

        Laura, I am truly horrified by your experience. I have shared your blog with my page, the Chappaqua School Disctrict’s Central PTA website, and two other closed mom’s groups on FB. “I am truly horrified! Below is the note I wrote on top of your article:
        This blog is so upsetting on many levels. I want to call her and ask her to move to Chappaqua!
        Our PTA could not be more different. In the blog I wrote I attribute my “happy” in part to the PTA and its acceptance. We would never even dream of hosting an event at a restaurant that did not cater to food allergies, specific diets, etc. I want to call this woman, those who know me know I will try, and just say I am sorry for her experience. The only “cliches”, I know of in the PTA are a group of people who care about the community, our kids, and each other. The PTA I know is always willing to look at challenging the norm, encouraging members to express new ideas to further grow our kids, and definitely OPEN to all those who want to be involved. I wonder what people are thinking ? This woman WANTS to help!”
        Sari Shaw- Living Chappy Happy

        Again, I am so sorry this happened to you and in multiple places! It is just wrong, small minded, and unfortunate.

        • Laura
          Laura February 8, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

          Thank you for your support!

    • Sunny February 3, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

      I agree about the teachers Brooke. That’s been my experience too. The other members tend to be friends with these teachers outside of school too. All of these issues contribute to the problems with public education. These attitudes spread throughout the system.
      I am not a fan of a certain chicken restaurant either for health reasons. I’m not sure what they put in their lemonade but people fiercely defend that place. I’ll never understand it. I won’t be attending any spirit nights there either.

  7. Jill February 1, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

    As a parent, I attended interest meetings and signed up for groups, never to be contacted. For years. Then, because I had made one friend on the inside, I was asked to serve on the PTA board. She hoped I could shake things up a bit. I did. As a board member, I was attacked by the president and school principal for questioning why our nut-free school would have a peanut butter drive for a local food bank (when green beans or any other food that wouldn’t double as a deadly weapon to severely allergic students on a school bus were perfectly acceptable). I was attacked for asking when parents might be asked to join the parent/teacher meetings. The president said she never wanted to work on another project with me. I assured her I would grant that wish as soon as we were finished with our current project. I walked away after I put together the highest attended fun-night the school had ever had. It’s been almost ten years, and I’m still grinding that axe.

    • Laura
      Laura February 1, 2016 at 8:44 pm #

      Love it!! The good news is we’ll have another brand new elementary school here in 2 years so maybe I’ll feel inspired to try again then. (Doubt it tho!)

  8. Notbuyingit February 2, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    I agree with Kay T. I understand the frustration in not being contacted, but you have to understand that these people are volunteering their time and hundreds of parents are offering to volunteer. Obviously some kind of communication went out resulting in you “forcing” your way into the book fair to volunteer. :eyeroll: That’s how it works. You let them know you’re interested in volunteering. When volunteer opportunities come up, they make an announcement to the masses. Not just to the people who said they’d volunteer, but to EVERYONE. If they don’t get enough of a response, they may start calling or emailing people individually. It sounds as though you were upset that you didn’t receive a personal invitation to reserve a volunteer spot at every event.

    As for the board and committee positions…maybe you should educate yourself on the PTA and how it works before you get your panties in a bunch because you tried and failed to join the board DURING the school year. Elections are held the previous year. The board and committees were already in place when you were trying to get a spot. You volunteer when opportunities arise, and reach out directly to a chair or board member if you have a particular interest. If you want to chair a committee the FOLLOWING year, email your PTA secretary and tell them you will be attending a board meeting prior to the nominating committee being formed, and she’ll put you on the agenda. You won’t be allowed to stay for voting, but you can go to an executive board meeting and have 5 minutes to introduce yourself and speak. It’s unfortunate that your PTA didn’t make this process clear to all members, but again, they’re VOLUNTEERS doing a ton of work, and it can be a challenge learning to manage all of that.

    You could have gone to your state PTA page and looked into committees and taken one to a board meeting, requesting its creation, while offering to chair it. You could have gone to a board meeting and expressed your interest in being involved, and mention how difficult it seems to get involved, and let them know you would love to help bridge that gap.

    You certainly could have put on your big girl pants when the board tabled your suggestion to change restaurants. You said it’s a new school and you were confused about how people could be used to that restaurant. Obviously the students and parents were at another school before the new one. It’s likely that the new school had PTA members from the old school(s) and they were sticking with what they knew while getting the new PTA off the ground. They didn’t say NO, they said wait. And then took to social media to start a passive aggressive attack on a business partner! PTA members are the face of the school. The school relies on business partners to help fund school events. Of course you were going to get called out. Read the code of ethics you were required to sign as a board member and act like a grown up! Instead, you took your ball and went home. You washed your hands of the school because you didn’t get your way.

    You sound lovely. I’m SHOCKED you weren’t receiving calls left and right, just begging you to come back and help.

    • Laura (the author)
      Laura (the author) February 2, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

      Maybe you should spend more time reading before you reply. I joined the board of the new PTO for the new school. Not mid year. Nothing I did or expected was unreasonable. I just wanted to help.

      Furthermore it was a PTO not a PTA, as I noted at the end of the piece. Since they intentionally didn’t join the larger PTA organization they could make up policies as they saw fit being a private PTO. In fact I suspect they enjoy the freedom of not being governed by any nationwide bylaws. It gives them more freedom to be a clique.

      I found your reply very judgemental and snotty (the panties comment particularly). I’m guessing you’re on a PTA and felt attacked.

      I think all PTA/PTO groups need to remember that P stands for parents. The organization is as much for the parents as the school. Being unwelcoming in any way doesn’t serve any side. It just makes people -parents- like me feel left out.

    • LN February 2, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

      I love how supportive you are! What a friendly mom-blog reader and community member you seem to be. I’m sure you’re very welcoming to local moms who are at all different from you. You also seem to be a LOVELY person who clearly values people from all backgrounds. It’s obvious that you have a lot going on in your life that leaves you with plenty of free time to attack this thoughtful blogger whose views apparently differ from yours. What a great contribution.

  9. LN February 2, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    Thanks for posting this! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there who hasn’t been too welcomed in the volunteer community. Our local PTA supports religious causes (good causes, but it drives me crazy that they’re affiliated with a particular religious group), and my experience has been similar. It was especially disheartening as I was hoping to use the PTA as a base for meeting people in our new city. Nothing for us to do but hang in there and direct our energies elsewhere, I suppose!

  10. JenniferW February 5, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

    Preach! Totally okay over here being “out” with the PTA mom’s. My life is full and busy enough already.

  11. KTX February 5, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    I am a SAHM who left the corporate environment as an IT Project Manager/Consultant. I loved every minute of my job but made my decision to stay at home. I don’t really want to be involved in PTA’s etc.. but decided a few times can’t hurt here and there in the future to be helpful. I reached out to volunteer on a decorating committee and this post resonates with me (due to similar experience of not being really listened to). This is what I think the problem is: Due to most (not all, of course), PTA moms are SAHM’s – *some* lack the team-building, collaborative nature and execution of corporate or the “work world” when it comes to projects or teams. Therefore, you get some ridiculous and non-productive behavior. I hate non-productive meetings, I want to cut to the chase and assign jobs and be done. I want to have a strong leader who listens to people – not who the person with the most “pull” suggests or who talks the loudest. I love innovation – not same ol stuff. Some women are just obnoxious. I think I really don’t want to be in PTA ever. Doesn’t make me less of a mom, but some stuff is just not my calling – I will leave it up to others. PTA mom won’t be on my tombstone ;P

  12. CKTX February 6, 2016 at 9:22 am #

    I had a similar experience in not being called after filling out the ‘how I can help’ form when my son entered Kinder. However, I stepped up, found out who chaired the committees I had interest in, and made contact myself.

    I also tried to suggest changes based on my personal preference. Like you, I was not well received. However, I understood that my preference was not more important than everyone else’s and in a group like a PTO, majority rules.

    After taking the Carnival Chair position when my son was in 2nd grade, I decided we should be making serious money based on what other local schools were doing (our school of 900 solid middle class kids normally only netted $5,000). After creating a silent auction, getting hundreds of donations from local companies and online requests, convincing a restaurant to cater dinner for 2000 people AND give out $10 coupons to the adults, and bringing our net income to $32,000, both the treasurer and president approached me to ask “was it worth it?” It was at that point that I gave up on our PTA.

    Even after that year, I never considered going online to voice my opinion on what the PTA should do. I always went straight to the person in charge of the committee in question.

    While I applaud your determination in wanting to participate, I also recognize that you thought the entire school should act around your family’s choices. If you consider that strictly vegan families may account for 1-5% of a school’s population, it is pretty unreasonable to demand a complete change from ChicFilA, who has an established give-back program – especially without coming in with a replacement suggestion. From your article, it seems you didn’t even research other vegan friendly restaurants to find out if they had a give-back program established or if they would be willing to have a school night.

    Perhaps, at your next school you will BRING change rather than simply demand it from others.

    • Laura
      Laura February 8, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

      Two things.

      First, I did want to bring the change. I offered to find another partner and was turned down. I was told Chik-Fil-A is an “established partner” which was totally ludicrous considering we were a brand new school. Nothing was “established”.. except that they decided it was. My friend, who is still on the PTA, even offered up a “replacement suggestion” that she had all the info on, and she was shot down too.

      Secondly, Chik-Fil-A does have a good track record giving to schools but they also have a track record of donating to anti-LGBT organizations. Beyond my family not being able to eat there because we are vegetarian (which is not the same as vegan, by the way), I think it’s wrong for a public school to partner with any organization that has anti-equal rights political motivations.

      The “entire school” does not have to go vegetarian but they should attempt to accommodate as many families as possible. Meat-eaters can eat vegetarian. It’s not asking much to offer a vegetarian choice. Let’s remember that spirit nights are fundraisers and if you can sell something that appeals to a larger audience then that could mean larger funds raised.

      Remember that the P in PTA stands for Parent not Partner. The bigger voice in the PTA should be the parents, not the partners.

  13. Nyla January 10, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi. My child’s school is a mess! The PTA head is a teacher. She claims this year there were about parents that signed up including me. I had to hunt her down after emailing several people to find out if they needed volunteers for the bookfair only for no one to get back to me. During one of the bookfair days, myself and another parent had to surround her to find out how we could help since another district school had already cancelled their bookfair due to no volunteers. Hmmm…really? I went to a scheduled meeting to find out days later she had cancelled it and did not notify anyone. No one ever gets an email or any communication on meeting dates, what’s happening, nothing!!!! But yet they want parents to donate money. I think not! How about letting the parents in on the PTA. The bimonthly district meetings are only for officers but no one ever gets to know who is running for these so-called officer positions. Never!!! The PTA/O is a joke to rob parents because they are not doing anything for the kids with the money. Trust me, I see the bull. I am actually in the process have starting a parents group that will do something similar as the PTA but actually welcome the parents and volunteers to assist.

  14. Margaret April 24, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

    PTA is a child advocacy organization and has nothing to do with PTO, which is a completely separate organization. As I read your article, I was saddened to hear how you were treated. I was getting more and more frustrated and disappointed the more I read. Then, I read the footnote at the bottom of the page. The one where you mention how it is really a PTO group and not a PTA, although you used the term PTA. This is misleading. The two organizations are not synonymous. You have misrepresented PTA by continuing to use that title throughout your article. While I remain sympathetic and saddened by how you were treated, it is misleading for you to refer to the group as a PTA and then leave a small footnote at the bottom, that it isn’t a PTA at all.

    Here are their respective websites:
    http://www.pta.org
    http://www.ptotoday.com

  15. mom July 27, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    I am just in shock about a restaurant in this day and age with zero vegetarian options? Absolutely agree that you should leave your own political views out of the equation. You can always skip the spirit night out but don’t expect everyone to share your beliefs.

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