Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dear schools: Would you please automate the forms already?


Max and Sabrina both attend excellent schools that have one thing in common: Their form systems are stuck in the 1950s. Before the start of every single school year, I fill out piles of student information and health forms.  

Yesterday, I spent my commute to and from work huddled over forms. I'd say that 95 percent of the information I filled out was the same as the previous year. My kids had the same names and addresses! They had the same birth dates! And the same doctors! Their vaccines hadn't changed! Heck, they even had THE SAME PARENTS! 

"Where do you think they store all the forms?" my friend Maryellen asked over lunch, as I complained about the time I've spent writing down information, sending forms to doctors to fill out and then tracking them down when they don't arrive. "Probably in filing cabinets!" she answered herself, and we both laughed. Sadly, she's probably right. 

It's so old school.

The kids' schools are well aware of the invention of computers; each has their own website, where you can get info on classroom activities and upcoming events...and download forms to print and fill out by hand. Both schools are innovative in other ways. So what's up with the paperwork? It's not just the schools in my area; parents I know around the country complain about that annual dreaded ritual, The Filling Out Of The Forms.  

Camps are now enabling parents to complete forms online. It's time for more schools to create online systems where parents can enter information, then refresh any necessary info year to year. Yes, the nurses would have to make sure the systems are secure and compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the school equivalent of HIPAA. And yes, it would take effort and funding to get systems into place.

But then: How much effort would online info ultimately save school staffers? How much quicker could they access it? How many trees would be saved? And how much easier would this make parents' lives, especially ones of kids with special needs who already have just a few responsibilities (and forms!) on their plates? (JUST. A. FEW.) 

After I finally finished Max's forms last night, powered by a glass of Pinot Grigio, I jotted a note to the nurse asking about an online form system; I'll be following up with her, and possibly the principal. I can't recall the last time I wrote a letter instead of an email, come to think of it, but I was in handwriting mode. Ack! The forms are making my brain revert! Next thing you know, I'm going to give up blogging and start writing a diary. 

As you read this, parents somewhere are hunched over their desks or kitchen tables, pen in hand, wearily filling out school forms. Let's send them our sympathy—and press on for computerization.  

15 comments:

  1. Yes! It's global! Doctors, hospitals, schools, when will they all come right?

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  2. One problem with computerizing all the forms is if the system goes down. But then how do hospitals handle it when their system goes down?

    At a minimum I would love to have on-line forms that I can fill out on my computer even if I have to print them to send to school. The forms could be saved and updated for the next year.

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  3. I'm with Janet. At least, make your forms fillable PDFs. Just make them fillable and replace what is on the website. It's not as slick as a true online form but means that parents can fill, save and print or email when needed. Anyone with Adobe PDF write can make a fillable form.

    I bang my head against the wall with field trip forms, of which there are many each year. Four pages. Yes, not a type. Four pages on the district school board field trip form. Every kid, every field trip FOUR PAGES. Usually not even printed double sided. Some smart teachers seem to be able to reduce and print double sided so can fit all four pages on one sheet. The field on the form have a number of duplicates and there is a lot of white space. Just kills me, and at least one tree, ever time. Must be a better way!!!

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  4. there are some HIPAA issues with transmitting completed forms on line, and a general concern that sensitive medical information can be hacked into. Most of the time the information on the forms is benign- but sometimes it isn't. It is alot easier to control access to a file cabinet than it is to secure a computer effectively.

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  5. Please remember that there are millions of people in the US with no internet access at all, or access only on a phone, wireless over a phone, or at the library. making the forms online only, or making people have to ask for the forms would be humiliating and discriminatory, or force them to make a special trip in order to have access.
    http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/digital-divide/start.html

    http://www.pewinternet.org/topics/digital-divide/

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    Replies
    1. In my high school report cards are online. If you want a paper copy you fill out a provided form and it is given to your child. Saves trees and postage.

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    2. We have that too, however many people in our school and our city have no internet, phone only internet or library only internet, they still must send out paper report cards and progress reports and syllabi, etc. No online homework in my city.... The digital divide is real and the point is that schools cannot go online only without causing problems
      http://blogs.sacurrent.com/thedaily/revealing-internet-use-map-of-sa-reinforces-digital-divide/

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    3. This doesn't have to be one or the other--it could be both. Schools could offer the choice of filling out forms online, and offer up paper ones in some neutral way for those who need that option.

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  6. One of the best things is that after you all fill them out by hand someone at the school has to transfer a lot of the information to the computer system! You would think there could at least be an option for doing some, if not all, of it online.

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  7. Towards the end of my son's schooling I developed formphobia. I'm still struggling with it.

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  8. Oh MAH god. I just did this last night. Two kids at the same school, 2,000 forms each. Meanwhile, over at the new doctor's office, I asked for an email address so I could transfer my son's medical records and was told, "We're not on computers." In a room full of staffers ALL SITTING AT COMPUTERS. OK, let me just print those SEVENTY-TWO pages for you.

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  9. I still keep a diary - well, a journal. Pen and paper, totally old school, and I've been doing it for over a decade. I love it! Although lately I guess my wrists wouldn't exactly agree... ^_^

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  10. My son is only in kindergarten (round two), and the mound of paperwork we got at Meet the Teacher this past Thursday isn't too bad. Maybe I've grown immune to forms. My problem is trying to remember what I put on his health form last year in the "other comments" section. I'm pretty sure I mentioned his sensory issues, as a just in case. It's not like the school isn't aware of them, considering the mountain of paperwork (evaluations, reevaluations, their results, et cetera) that I dropped off at the school last year ... and the fact that he gets ST and OT through the school, but I'm still like "should I write this down just in case?" School starts Monday. I still haven't filled out any forms. Last year, I stayed up late Sunday night doing them. I guess I should get on that now, so I can actually get sleep Sunday night/Monday morning (you know, since we'll have to start waking up at the crack of dawn on Monday).

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  11. What if a hacker somehow obtains the automated forms and abuses them?

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Thanks for sharing!



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