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“in loco parentis”

I was recently involved in a discussion with a school that centered around the idea/phrase in loco parentis, meaning “in the place of parents”. The school had the phrase as a part of the institution’s policy manual and recent usage of the phrase by parents sparked a revisiting by the board of the origin, essence, and definition of the phrase.

It seems that in the historical context, in loco parentis is used to establish the authority of the teacher as delegated from the parent. It is interesting that in some schools, the meaning has been twisted to be used as parental leverage or authority within the context of the school. I would disagree with this application.

I am a strong advocate of parental rights and authority and the protection of them. And I agree that it is parental authority that is delegated to the teacher to establish educational jurisdiction over a child. But schools also have authority in their own right. I came across a reference a few days ago to Berkof and Van Til’s book Foundations in Christian Education. It pointed to the idea that “while parents willingly convey their authority to the teacher, schools are not just an extension of the family. The school has original authority of its own as an independent social community to establish rules and policies as it sees fit.” (“Compassionate Discipline”, Schools as Communities. James L. Drexler, editor, p.259)

I think this idea dovetails well with the gist of in loco parentis and should be asserted by schools in order to maintain institutional authority and avoid mission drift caused by parental desires and pressure.

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