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 has 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.)