UPDATE 4/29 11:55 a.m.: Mike Rossi and his wife met with the school on Wednesday morning and says he’ll be on the Today show and Fox and Friends on Thursday, although he’s been unhappy with some of the media coverage. Read the full story here.
When he was 18, Mike Rossi was a host of Dancin’ On Air, the live, locally produced music show that featured performances by the likes of Madonna, Will Smith and Menudo. But these days, he’s a 47-year-old husband and father of two living out in the suburbs, where his twins are in the third grade at Rydal Elementary School. And it is there that controversy has erupted over Rossi’s decision to bring his kids to Boston to watch him run the marathon back on April 20th.
Rossi and his wife, Cindy, took the children out of school on April 17th, 20th and 21st for a family trip to Beantown, centered around Monday’s race, which Rossi had long dreamed of running. He almost didn’t make it to the starting line, thanks to a death in the family and an injury. But he persevered, ran the race, and crossed the finish line, with what he believes to be a torn labrum.
But the real pain began when he received a letter from Rydal’s principal, Rochelle Marbury. Here’s what she wrote:
I understand that your family recently took a family vacation. I want you to be aware that the Abington School District does not recognize family trips as an excused absence, regardless of the activities involved in the trip. The school district is not in the position of overseeing family vacations or evaluating the educational nature of a family trip. The dates that the children were absent were recorded as unexcused. An accumulation of unexcused absences can result in referral to our attendance officer and a subsequent notice of a violation of the compulsory school attendance law.
“This is the zero tolerance that everyone loves,” says Rossi. “They’ve taken common sense out of the equation. You’ve violated the rules and here’s your letter. It definitely rubbed me the wrong way.”
Rossi says he’s no irresponsible, uninvolved parent. Quite the opposite.
“I’m really active in the school,” he insists. “I take them every day. I chaperone all of the class trips that I can. I go to the field day and all activities. I even make videos for the classrooms and show them at the end of the year — highlights from the year. And I go in and read a couple of times a year. These rules should be in place for parents who aren’t involved and who, in some cases, don’t even know their kids are absent. This is not for responsible parents trying to teach their kids the right things and teach them about the world outside the classroom.”
Now, Rossi’s not saying that he didn’t violate the policy. What he’s saying is that the policy and the zero tolerance attitude associated with it are dumb and that the school should take these things on a case-by-case basis, not by sending letters to parents warning them of running afoul of the law.
It turns out that Pennsylvania law does allow for educational family trips to be considered excused absences, and some school districts do make exceptions. But state law lets the local districts use their own discretion, and Abington School District makes no such exception.
Rossi wrote the following response to Principal Marbury:
Dear Madam Principal,
While I appreciate your concern for our children’s education, I can promise you they learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school.
Our children had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can’t be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book.
In the 3 days of school they missed (which consisted of standardized testing that they could take any time) they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history, culinary arts and physical education.
They watched their father overcome injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal.
They also experienced first-hand the love and support of thousands of others cheering on people with a common goal.
At the marathon, they watched blind runners, runners with prosthetic limbs and debilitating diseases and people running to raise money for great causes run in the most prestigious and historic marathon in the world.
They also paid tribute to the victims of a senseless act of terrorism and learned that no matter what evil may occur, terrorists can not deter the American spirit.
These are things they won’t ever truly learn in the classroom.
In addition our children walked the Freedom Trail, visited the site of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre and the graves of several signers of the Declaration of Independence.
These are things they WILL learn in school a year or more from now. So in actuality our children are ahead of the game. They also visited an aquarium, sampled great cuisine and spent many hours of physical activity walking and swimming.
We appreciate the efforts of the wonderful teachers and staff and cherish the education they are receiving at Rydal Elementary School. We truly love our school.
But I wouldn’t hesitate to pull them out of school again for an experience like the one they had this past week.
Thank you for your time.
A meeting between the school and the parents is scheduled for Wednesday morning. The principal did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
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