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COMMENTARY: For parents, back to school means a backpack full of paperwork

Sonia Sunger sits down with David Yan, from Envision Financial, for tips for keeping your finances in check at this busy time of year.

In case your Facebook feed last week didn’t remind you with pictures of kids you don’t know from parents who are hardly your “friend,” it was back-to-school in most jurisdictions.

Your mileage may vary, but the first day of school usually means the backpacks arrive home heavier than they were in the morning. It’s not first day homework assignments or stuff accumulated at recess: it’s the mountain of paper expected to be read and sometimes signed by the parents from schools that haven’t quite adapted to the digital age.

READ MORE: Four things that should be on your back-to-school checklist

I’ve seen less paperwork in a passport application, a marriage license request, even in a simple T1 general tax return. This year my 10-year-old-stepson is in Grade 5 and he brought home a record 18 pages of information, consent sheets, school lunch program signups, school bus information, homeroom teacher introductions, multi-faith celebration reminders and one annual, ominous legal reminder from the school board that I’ll get to in a moment.

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Some of the sheets are useful; it’s always easy to sign up for the pizza and pita lunches because it gives you one less thing to worry about in the morning if you know your kid will be fed, relatively inexpensively, over the noon hour. The problem is the pizzas/pitas are so devoid of flavour due to gluten/allergy worries, kids never eat what you’ve pre-purchased. They come home from school and start gnawing on a table leg.

Snack solutions for back to school can be tasty, healthy and creative
Snack solutions for back to school can be tasty, healthy and creative

WATCH: Snack solutions for back to school can be tasty, healthy and creative

One form I just can’t understand. It’s a simplistic list of suggestions on how a parent/guardian can help their child succeed. It includes these nuggets of brilliance that only a public service bureaucrat, who probably doesn’t have children, could come up with.

  1. Make sure your child is fed
  2. Make sure you keep a routine that fits your child’s personal needs
  3. Ensure your child is getting enough rest
  4. Always remember that when the blackjack dealer is showing a card valued between 4 and 6, you must stand on any total from 12 to 16

That last tip has helped me more times than you could know. I’m pretty good on my own with tips 1 to 3.

READ MORE: Skipping breakfast? Here are some quick and healthy options for busy mornings

Now to the annual form that should strike fear into the heart of any parent. It’s from the Director of Education for the entire school board. I’ve done several interviews with my Global News Radio colleague Roy Green on this one. It’s the reminder that, under the Education and Child Services Act, any teacher or school official may report abuse, either physical or mental, if suspected.

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The screed reminds us that there is no leeway under the law. It makes clear that the decision has no discretion involved and parents will not be notified that a report has been filed. On the surface, it appears to be a policy paper on how our schools act as safety nets for children at risk. On closer examination, I find it to be a threatening reminder that our schools have become hovering co-parents who will jump at the chance to interfere with any parenting they deem inadequate based on studies published in far away ivory towers. It’s kind of like the lawyer’s letter you receive in a small claims court case that warns you to “govern yourself accordingly.”

Dealing with Back to School anxiety
Dealing with Back to School anxiety

When I’ve discussed this letter on my talk show, maybe one per cent of the callers say they like the fact the schools are keeping an eye on silent or hidden abuse. I get that. But the other 99 per cent of calls have spoke of horror stories of teachers making assumptions, principals jumping to conclusions, and social workers eager to open a new file to keep the funding flowing.

One caller told me he was doing what he always did with his five-year-old son: swinging him around by his arms. One day the boy slipped and bruised his leg. The teacher asked, “What happened?” The five-year old innocently responded, “Daddy threw me”. There was a knock knock at the door the next day from Children’s Services. The teacher never called dad for a quick adult explanation and a thank you, goodbye.

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Dealing with Back to School anxiety
Dealing with Back to School anxiety

WATCH: Dealing with back-to-school anxiety

If I have any advice at all, get to know who’s teaching your kid(s). Go to the meetings, the assemblies and the fall fair fundraisers.  Most parents would take a serious injury to protect their children and we absolutely must protect those children whose parents don’t care.  But we live in a time where we send the kids to that building everyday and expect some anonymous human will send them home in the afternoon a little smarter.

And even though it’ll take most of one night, read everything you’ve been delivered from that backpack. There’s more in that pile of paper than bus schedules.

Mike Stafford is co-host of The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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