Public School After-Hours Fitness Program Under Review

A popular after-hours fitness program for public school students in Montgomery County has become the target of an ethics probe, investigating when and how a teacher can charge fees to work with children outside the classroom, write Michael Alison Chandler at the Washington Post.

An apparent violation of a policy that forbids employees from tutoring their own students in exchange for money recently shut down the Healthy Kids Workout program at Somerset Elementary School in Chevy Chase after 17 years.

Montgomery County parents are lobbying to save the program, sounding their appreciation for the teacher’s entrepreneurialism.  More than 150 parents signed or sent letters in support of the program, saying they are willing to pay more for quality services at their school.

“We have to have ethics policies in place for any employee who is making money off students,” Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said.

Montgomery and Prince George’s counties prohibit teachers from tutoring students from their schools or on school property, Fairfax county also prohibits teachers from tutoring their own students for private compensation “under any circumstances”.

Somerset parents appreciate the policy in academic courses and upper grades, but they believe it’s a little heavy handed in an elementary gym class context.

“That’s what happens in bureaucracies,” said parent Steven Guttentag.

“They make rules, and they trip over themselves when you have a good, innovative idea like this.”

For most of the program’s existence, teachers were paid by the PTA, but after they stopped running the programs in 2009, tutors started charging parents directly.

Last spring, the parents of students who participated in the scheme three mornings a week were charged $570 a semester; one morning a week cost less than $200 a semester.

After the program was canceled, the PTA looked into funding the program again. But after reviewing the regulations, it found it could pay teachers only $14 an hour for up to 100 hours per semester, writes Chandler.

“People pay their nannies more than $14 an hour,” said Morris Panner, a parent with four children at Somerset Elementary.

“I get the notion that you don’t want teachers turning schools into profit centers,” he said.“But if a teacher makes some extra money doing a program that people love, that’s fantastic.”