Bill Would Fine Parents Who Skip School Conferences - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

01/31/07 - Houston, Texas

Bill Would Fine Parents Who Skip School Conferences

Playing hooky from a parent-teacher conference? You better have a good excuse.

A Houston-area legislator wants to subject parents to criminal charges for skipping a scheduled meeting with their child's teacher.

Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, said it is time for the state to crack down on Texans who are shirking their parental responsibilities by failing to meet with the teacher when their child is having academic or disciplinary problems.

"I don't know if it's been getting worse, but it's a problem right now," Mr. Smith said. "It's certainly worse than when I had kids in school."

Under the bill, parents who miss a scheduled conference with a teacher could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and fined up to $500. Parents could avoid prosecution if they have a "reasonable excuse" for failing to show up. State education officials or school districts would probably be left to define what's reasonable but, for example, a medical emergency would probably suffice.

Mr. Smith said his goal is not to punish parents but to get them to show up for meetings so they can communicate face to face about their child.

"The concept is to get parents into the classroom," he said. "If the child has education or learning problems, or disciplinary problems, the parents need to know about it. They need to discuss it with the teacher because the child's future is at stake."

Plenty of hurdles remain before the bill becomes law. The House's leader on education policy, Rep. Rob Eissler, said he has concerns about specifics of how it would be enforced. But some parents and education groups say the overarching goal - more parental involvement - is a good one.

Donna Holden, who has three sons in the Plano school district, likes the idea.

"Parents need to be in touch with what is going on in school, and they should be held accountable," Ms. Holden said. "If a child is acting up in school in a way that is inappropriate, and the parents refuse to come in for a scheduled meeting, they should be held in contempt, or something like that.

"Not showing up is a bad example for their child."

Ms. Holden suggested that such incidents be handled the same way as truancy cases.

Not sold on it

Other parents have reservations.

"It sounds pretty harsh to me," said Heather Ashwell-Hair, president of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Council of PTAs, even though data in her school district shows a "surprisingly high number" of parents who fail to attend scheduled conferences.

"Too often, parents want to put the responsibility for raising their kids onto the schools, and I understand the concerns of those who support this legislation," she said. "We have to make our parents more accountable, but I don't think this is the way to go. Instead, we need to work on educating our parents about the importance of these meetings."

Leaders of teacher groups agreed something needs to be done, but they also questioned whether charging parents with a crime is the best solution.

"We certainly appreciate the intent of the bill, which is to increase parental involvement in their child's education. But we're not sure criminalizing their behavior is the way to achieve that," said Larry Comer of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

"Unfortunately, teachers often don't hear from some parents until the end of the school year, and that's after they have learned their child won't pass or won't be allowed to graduate," he said.

Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said it is "a sad state of affairs when we have to start fining parents to get them to come to school and talk about their children. But apparently it is reaching that point."

Serious problem

Mr. Kouri said parent no-shows at teacher conferences have become a serious problem in many schools.

The likelihood of a child being successful in school is diminished when there is no communication between the parents and teacher, he said.

The bill, which is expected to be considered in the House Public Education Committee that Mr. Eissler leads, specifies that the parent has to receive written notice by certified mail, listing at least three proposed dates for the parent-teacher conference. A parent who ignores the notice or schedules a meeting but fails to attend would face charges - unless there was a valid reason for not showing up.

The measure also states that fines paid by parents would be used to either provide additional compensation for teachers in the district or to purchase school supplies other than textbooks.

Mr. Eissler, R-The Woodlands, called the proposal an "interesting concept," although "it sounds like it might be a little too much work for both sides."

"You have to define what is an official request [to the parent], how many requests have to be made and what happens when parents who don't show up say they told the school they couldn't make it."

Mr. Eissler said, however, that he "would like to see parents more involved in school with their kids."

Asked about reaction to his proposal, Mr. Smith said teachers have been generally supportive, while school districts have been more cautious - mainly because districts are not sure how they would administer the law.

"That's one of things we're still working on," he said, adding he also plans to address other criticisms of the measure.

Ms. Holden said her sons' Plano schools work with parents in scheduling parent-teacher conferences. "They're pretty flexible, and in some cases, you can do it over the phone," she said.

But she added that there should be allowances for parents who work because some companies are not lenient when it comes to letting employees off in the middle of the day to attend a parent-teacher conference.

Story credit: The Associated Press.

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