Discriminating Against ‘Regular’ Kids

A Former Student Speaks Out Against Elite Programs that Require Parents to Volunteer in the Classroom

By Michelle E. Heacox

Bubble gum stuck to a shoe – that’s how I felt in elementary school “regular” classrooms. Students in “special” classrooms had more learning opportunities, individualized instruction, and field trips. These “school-within-a-school” classrooms are called APPLE (Alternative Parent Participation Learning Experience) in my school district in Spokane, Wash.

APPLE functions as a tax-funded private school. Tuition is labor – a signed parent-involvement contract for 90 hours of work. Parents must provide transportation and participate in fundraisers. Hopeful parents are interviewed by APPLE parents. Siblings have priority.

Parent contracts discriminate based on parental status. Can parents who aren’t able to afford cars provide transportation? Will parents who are worried about food and shelter donate to fundraisers? Can ESL parents read these contracts? What happens if parents die? Will their children be kicked out of APPLE?

APPLE draws resources (volunteers and fundraisers) away from “regular” classrooms. APPLE took frequent field trips. We didn’t. My Mom was our only volunteer. Our car wouldn’t hold 22 kids. All APPLE students (grades 1 – 6) were in a school play. I wanted a part but, “No regular kids allowed!” We had to provide the audience.

No African-American, Latino/a, or Native-American students were in APPLE at Franklin or Logan Elementary Schools in April, 2002. Franklin had a 46 percent gap in free/reduced lunch rates between APPLE and “regular” classrooms. Logan’s gap was 31.9 percent, and Garfield’s 40.6 percent. A Garfield APPLE class had 15 students, while a “regular” class had 26. This lack of diversity won’t help close the notorious achievement gap!

APPLE fosters elitism, bullying, and harassment by setting APPLE kids against the rest of us. “Regular” kids, feeling insignificant and inferior, respond by calling APPLE students “apple cores.” I wanted to hate APPLE children. My parents taught me not to hate, but programs that make kids hate each other should be changed.

Spokane Public Schools don’t practice what they teach about equity. I contacted the District’s Equity Office, Superintendent, and spoke before the School Board. The Board’s response letter compared APPLE to private schools. Influential parents, thrilled with the special treatment their children receive, insure APPLE won’t change.

After I wrote the Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction, some children weren’t allowed to play with me. I was confronted in a park and criticized by both a radio talk show and by the editorial board of the Spokesman-Review. OOPS! The Editor’s child was in APPLE. I testified before the House and Senate Education Committees in Olympia. Washington’s Constitution states public schools cannot give preference on account of “caste,” so I wrote the ACLU. They are investigating APPLE.

Parent involvement should always be encouraged but never required for public school admission. Kids can’t pick their parents. We shouldn’t be in separate classrooms because we have different kinds of parents! Adults tell kids to share. Children would be happier if APPLE parents shared. APPLE kids would be happier because “regular” kids wouldn’t hate them.”Regular” kids would be happier because they’d be treated equally at school.

It’s over for me. I am out of elementary school. But it’s not over for thousands of other children. For them, I still cry.

Michelle Heacox, 14, lives in Spokane, Wash. and is home schooled. An article on the ongoing controversy over the APPLE program appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of Education Week.