Soliciting for Her Students

Type: Article
Topics: Ethics, School Administrator Magazine

September 01, 2016

Ethical Educator
Cartoon of an educator asking for donations

A teacher submits a request through DonorsChoose, an online tool to solicit funds for targeted projects, for a class set of 20 Chromebooks without seeking authorization from the school district, which is identified in the request along with the school, grade and teacher.

The district’s policy, which is not mentioned, requires that gifts become school district property.

The teacher also communicates to the parents of her students: “In lieu of small holiday gifts, please contribute to the DonorsChoose request.”

Should the solicitation be allowed to proceed?

Sarah Jerome:

The teacher is to be complimented on her ingenuity and interest in providing technology opportunities for her students.  The old adage "where there's a will, there's a way" comes to mind.  

However, she is not in a one-room school but likely working in a school district with multiple schools and grades. She is part of a bigger picture. The school district is likely to have a board-approved technology plan with a strategy for resource distribution based on grades, curriculum and teacher training. The solicitation should stop. The teacher will need two approvals:  One for the purchase of the Chromebooks and one for the source of the funding. The district is likely to have board policies on each area.

The appropriate steps to seek school authorization for solicitation of funds or other gifts must be followed. Those policies are in place to protect both the district and the teacher.

There are many questions that will need to be answered before the 20 Chromebooks are approved.  Are the Chromebooks part of the district's technology plan? If so, is there a sequence for distribution by grade level, by school, by subject area? Does this acquisition disturb the equitable distribution of the approved tech plan?  Does this addition create a "have" and "have not" problem within the school?

Before the teacher proceeds with the funding request, the district will need to decide if DonorsChoose is an acceptable option. If it is, would the district encourage all the teachers in the school to fund Chromebooks for each class in the same manner?

Maggie Lopez:

The solicitation should proceed. However before moving forward with the request, the teacher should take some additional steps.

The teacher needs to discuss the funding request with the principal/district. DonorsChoose has specific expectations and protocols for funding recipients. It is important for both the teacher and district to have knowledge of these expectations for funding. There also should be some coordination with the IT department to ensure the Chromebooks are compatible with district specifications for technology.    

This district’s policy on gifts is “gifts become district property.” If the teacher receives the funding for the Chromebooks from the DonorsChoose project, the Chromebooks are in essence a “gift” or donation to the classroom and would become district property. Regardless of the policy, it is typical practice that resources garnered for classrooms and students, through grants or charitable organizations, become district/school property. There are some exceptions when the grant or charitable organization dictates that items awarded (e.g., books) are to be distributed to the students for personal ownership at the end of the project. Something to consider is whether the Chromebooks would follow the teacher if he/she were to change schools or grades within the school since the request is for a specific school, grade level and teacher.

It is important for the teacher to clarify with parents that there is no expectation for them to give a holiday gift. The e-mail request issued to parents saying they could donate in lieu of giving a holiday gift, is not an appropriate request.  My guess is that the teacher was only intending to garner parent support for the DonorsChoose project. It would have been more appropriate for the teacher to simply inform parents that he/she posted a request on DonorsChoose for Chromebooks and that there is an opportunity to donate but that it is not an expectation. The teacher could provide information through a link on the DonorsChoose program as a way to offer more information on the request he/she is posting and on the DonorsChoose program.

This is a good opportunity for the students in this classroom to receive technology that will support learning and for the teacher to receive technology that can help him/her better serve the students. The teacher’s good intentions in trying to secure additional resources for students should be acknowledged.

With the dwindling resources classroom teachers experience, the DonorsChoose program attempts to make a positive difference for students, teachers and classrooms across the U.S. It is a great resource for teachers to get support for their classrooms. The program was started by a teacher who needed a set of classroom books!

Shelley Berman:

Absolutely allow this, as long as the use of Chromebooks is supported by the school district. Clearly, the teacher should have sought prior authorization of the DonorsChoose request. Now that the administration is aware of the request, the principal should meet with the teacher to explain the district’s policy and appropriate procedures. In fact, given teachers’ widespread interest in presenting proposals to DonorsChoose, it may be helpful for the administration to notify all teachers about the appropriate process and lend support to those who wish to submit requests.

DonorsChoose awards are made to the teacher for a particular project, but whatever is purchased belongs to the school. The awards are not personal gifts but contributions to improve classrooms across the country. If the teacher were to leave the school or transfer to another district, the equipment should remain with the school.

Equity is an important issue in seeking and accepting donations from parents and outside organizations since wealthy schools can often raise the most funds. However, DonorsChoose highlights as most urgent those projects that are in high-poverty communities and encourages individuals to review projects that may help the neediest of communities in order to bring some equity to school fundraising. There is nothing inconsistent or inappropriate in accepting an award from DonorsChoose or in requesting that parents contribute in lieu of holiday gifts. In fact, this activity engenders a spirit of generosity while striving to enhance the quality of student learning.  

It is a sad commentary on our funding of public education that teachers and schools must resort to fundraising through parent organizations, local education foundations, private foundations and charitable organizations such as DonorsChoose to support basic instructional needs and provide enriching experiences for students. However, school fundraising has become not only a commonplace and accepted practice, but a necessity in order to sustain programs and support student learning.

Mario Ventura:

Seeking donations that align to the educational mission of the district is a great way to engage the community in student learning and provide additional resources to schools. Donors should never be made to feel obligated to donate.

A principled educator uses a process to determine whether or not donations are made in a voluntary manner and within the policies and regulations of the school district. Educators also must ensure communication seeking a donation is clear about the voluntary nature of the request.

In this scenario, the teacher has good intentions in her solicitation of technology devices for her classroom, and targeted donors have no obligation. Although the solicitation for donations can be shown to be voluntary, she violated district policy. The solicitation of Chromebooks should be allowed to proceed if the method of donation can be corrected and allowable within district policy.

The teacher’s solicitation of donations instead of holiday gifts is inappropriate and should not be allowed to proceed. By making such a request, the teacher could unintentionally make students and parents believe that a gift or donation is expected and not truly voluntary. A perceived obligation to donate could potentially create an undue pressure on families to donate an item from the teacher’s list on DonorsChoose.

Each month, School Administrator draws on actual circumstances to raise an ethical decision-making dilemma in K-12 education. Our distinguished panelists provide their own resolutions to each dilemma. Do you have a suggestion for a dilemma to be considered? Send it to:

The Ethical Educator panel consists of

  • Shelley Berman, superintendent, Andover, Mass.;
  • Sarah Jerome, a retired superintendent in Arlington Heights, Ill., and an AASA past president;
  • Maggie Lopez, a retired superintendent in Pueblo, Colo.; and
  • Mario Ventura, superintendent, Isaac School District, Phoenix, Ariz.