US school board considers $100 cap on ‘out-of-control gift-giving’

Teachers oppose move, saying ‘we know the difference between a bribe and a gift’

A group of schools in the US is set to vote today on introducing a $100 cap on presents teachers can receive from parents, in a bid to curb a culture of “out-of-control gift-giving”.

Parents from Arlington County, Virginia have started dispensing with traditional tokens of gratitude like home-baked goods or festive trinkets, instead pooling their resources to give their children’s educators gift cards filled with hundreds of dollars in hard cash.

Sitting just across the river from Washington, DC, the area covered by the Arlington County School Board is one of the wealthiest in the country.

Yet this has contributed to spiralling competition among parents to be seen giving the best gifts. Some even ask their children’s teachers to fill out questionnaires on their hobbies and favourite shops, so that they can personalise presents accordingly, the Washington Post reported.

The board, which oversees policy at a number of schools, was praised by some parents for trying to scale down the issue. One mother wrote to board members, signing her letter simply “Mom to three”, saying she had been forced to cut back on gifts to friends and babysitters this year in order to keep up with other parents at school.

“I felt so much pressure to not be that mom that was talked about for not showing up with a gift in hand,” she wrote.

Another mother, Tammy Beatty, told the Post she disagreed with the idea of a cap. “They spend all day with our kids,” she said. “And you just feel like you want to gush over these teachers and take care of them.”

Board member James Lander said the vote had been called for in an attempt to prevent favouritism towards pupils with apparently richer, more generous parents, adding that the news of who had received the latest extravagant present was now a common topic of conversation among teachers.

“In life, everything is not equal, but there should be boundaries for what we operate within,” Mr Lander said.

The cap, if implemented, would apply for the duration of a single academic year, and would be discounted for homemade gifts or items intended for classroom use.

Jaim Foster, the president of the Arlington Education Association, has nonetheless opposed plans to impose rules on gift policy, calling it unnecessary.

“Educators are ethical people who make ethical decisions daily on lots of topics, and we know the difference between receiving a bribe and receiving a gift out of appreciation,” he said.

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