For the 13th year in a row, the Pittsburgh Public School District’s Take a Father to School Day brought African-American men into schools and classrooms across the district. The annual celebration on May 20, invited fathers, grandfathers, uncles and other father figures to participate in school activities for one day, in the hopes of increasing male involvement year round.

FATHER FIGURE—Djamil Sanders and son Malschi Smith of Northview Heights. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“By me coming up without a positive father figure and being raised by my mother, I know it is important for the youth to have someone to guide them in the right direction so they do not make the same mistakes I did in my life,” said Djamil Sanders, father of Malschi Smith.

This year’s celebration came under attack in a letter written by Superintendant Linda Lane two months prior to the event. The letter, shared by District 8 School Board Representative Mark Brentley at the March 23 legislative meeting, was written in response to the school board representative’s call for an additional day of recognition for district mothers.

“She is the first superintendent in five years to publicly speak out against the Take a Father to School Day,” Brentley said. “She said principals were complaining. They gave the excuse that it was too much work for the staff.”

In the letter, Lane said principals had reported behavioral problems on the day of the event from students whose fathers did not participate. She also said the event raised concerns surrounding parental custody, clearances, and interfered with educational instruction.

“Dealing with these behavior issues is labor intensive. Fathers that participate and do not have clearances are unknown to teachers and staff and raise a concern over whether there is a potential safety risk. It is a labor intensive and very difficult to monitor the fathers that visit because of the sheer numbers of the visitors in the buildings on these days. Fathers often interact with students outside of their own. Schools worry that an incident could lead to a lawsuit,” Lane said in the letter. “Fathers that participate are not active in the school outside of this event. The event is expensive, and though it’s well attended, does not yield results in increasing involvement in male figures… Some schools find the adverse impact of the event outweighs the benefit.”

Despite her reservations, the 13th annual event went off without a hitch, drawing in more than 5000 men. Brentley and the many fathers who do participate, say the program has a positive impact on students.

“It is extremely important because the kids see their father playing an active roll in their life and education and it will make the kids work harder and it also builds self esteem,” said Mike Johnson, father of Ivana Johnson. “While mothers do a great job kids still need a father role model.”

In the letter Lane said the district has received complaints from mothers who say they feel excluded by the annual event and principals who have to accommodate mothers who come to their schools to participate. However, others said any kind of parental involvement is positive for students.

“It brightens up the kids day if any parent mother or father participates in any of their activities inside and outside the school,” said Candie Moore, mother of Salaya and Tara Moore.

To rectify complaints by mothers, Brentley proposed a mothers appreciation day, which prompted the letter of criticism from Superintendent Lane. The other board members voted against Brentley’s proposal at the March 23 meeting.

“I do want to move forward, even though it was turned down, with a mother’s appreciation day,” Brentley said. “I believe that for all the work and service that women and mothers have done in the Pittsburgh public schools, surely we can give them one day. I will present it again.”

“The District has committed to several important District-wide parent and community engagement events, including Parent-Teacher Conferences, Welcome Back to School Nights and Take a Father to School Day. Each and every District-wide event requires resources and we are not in a position to take on new District-wide events,” Lane said about why the proposal was turned down.

The theme of this year’s celebration “Yes Eye Can,” encouraged fathers to bring used eyeglasses for those in need and non-perishable food items to be donated to the local food bank.

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