Abington dad's letter becomes matter of principal

Michael Rossi crosses the finish line of the Boston Marathon. He brought his twin daughters along.

With two news vans outside his front door and an invitation to appear on Today in New York on Thursday, Michael Rossi is wondering what he did to merit so much attention.

"I hope this is Minute 14 of my 15 minutes," the Abington Township father of 9-year-old twins said Wednesday.

The frenzy started when he penned a letter to his children's principal at Rydal Elementary School. She had notified him that the three school days his children had missed - April 17, 20, and 21 - so they could watch him run the Boston Marathon and spend time in the Boston area constituted unexcused absences.

Then he posted it on Facebook for friends who had been following his journey to the marathon, held April 20.

Now the letter and his response have gone viral, and Rossi has become the celebrity parent du jour, viewed as fighting back at policies that many think are short on common sense.

"It just sort of rankled me a little bit," said Rossi, 47, a part-time DJ and owner of an event business, who lives in Rydal.

Neither the principal nor the Abington School District superintendent would comment, and the only official response was posted on the district's website.

Before leaving for Boston, Rossi said, he had e-mailed his children's teachers notifying them and asking for homework. After returning home, the family received a note from principal Rochelle Marbury explaining that the district does not recognize family trips as excused absences, and warning that too many could result in referrals to an attendance officer. Rossi returned fire Friday, writing:

 "While I appreciate your concern for our children's education, I can promise you they learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school.

"Our children had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can't be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book.

"In the 3 days of school they missed (which consisted of standardized testing that they could take any time) they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history, culinary arts and physical education.

"They watched their father overcome injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one, and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal.

"At the marathon, they watched blind runners, runners with prosthetic limbs and debilitating diseases, and people running to raise money for great causes run in the most prestigious and historic marathon in the world.

"They also paid tribute to the victims of a senseless act of terrorism and learned that no matter what evil may occur, terrorists can not deter the American spirit. ...

"We truly love our school.

"But I wouldn't hesitate to pull them out of school again for an experience like the one they had this past week. ... "

 Rossi said he almost didn't make it to the starting line because of a death in the family and an injury, possibly to a shoulder. The race was Rossi's fourth marathon and first in Boston.

On its site this week, the district posted a letter from School Board President Raymond McGarry that took a conciliatory tone. "It's up to an individual family to decide whether a particular trip is worth taking their children out of school," he wrote. "And when that happens, it's the school district's obligation to let the parents know what the laws and policies are."

Rossi, who said he is an active parent volunteer, said he met with the principal, another administrator, and school board members Wednesday morning at their invitation. "They were upset that I had gone on Facebook," he said.

"They were not happy. They stood by their policy. I said I respect that. They also said they would look into their letter to see if it could have be written any differently. I said it's offensive, accusatory, and combative," he added.

But he said he thinks the principal is great.

"I feel bad she's getting the brunt of this," he said. "It's a shame that people can't have a debate and disagree without getting nasty."

 


kboccella@phillynews.com

610-313-8232 @kathyboccella