A Louisiana law that went into effect on Aug. 1 empowers school districts in the state to take punitive action against parents who fail to show up for a teacher-requested parent-teacher conference, either in person or over the phone.
State Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, who introduced the bill (SB 685) in the most recent legislative session, said school boards in the state's 66 public school districts will mete out punishment at their own discretion, if at all.
"What we did not want to do is create a 'one size fits all' law," Long told Education Week. "Any rules promulgated for the enforcement of this law will be handled at the local level."
The language of the law does not specify what kinds of action school boards can take in trying to enforce parent-teacher conference participation. Publishing the names of recalcitrant parents in the local newspaper seems to be the most frequently mentioned consequence, Long said, but since the law has just gone into effect, it's too soon to tell what action—if any—local school boards will take.
The official summary for Louisiana Act 845, signed into law on June 14 by Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, "requires the parents or guardians of public school children to attend or participate in at least one parent-teacher conference per year."
The act states that:
(1) A teacher shall schedule at least two parent-teacher conferences during the first semester each school year. At least one parent or guardian of the child shall attend or participate in at least one of the scheduled parent-teacher conferences.
(2) A teacher may not require a parent or guardian to attend a conference if the conference is deemed to be unnecessary due to the student's academic record.
(3) If a middle school or high school student has more than one teacher, the parent or guardian may participate in the conference by conference call.
The governing authority of each elementary and secondary school shall adopt rules relative to failure of the parent or guardian to attend at least one scheduled parent-teacher conference.
"My concept on this is that I personally thought teachers were being thrown under the bus, so to speak, and being held responsible for the entire educational process of students. As you know, unless there's parental and community involvement, there are some kids who slip through the cracks," Long explained.
"The purpose of my bill was to send a wake-up call to parents that you have a responsibility to be a partner in the education of your children," said Long.
The law was written so that it's at the teacher's discretion whether a parent is required to meet to discuss a particular student. The student cannot be penalized if his or her parent fails to attend a conference, either in person or over the phone.
"This law only deals with one scenario where the teacher says, 'You know, I need Mr. Jones involved in understanding how serious this is.' Nothing becomes activated until then."
How has the public reacted to Long's law?
"The response I've had thus far has been favorable. In particular, it's been extremely favorable with parents. Most, by the way, are already engaged with their children," Long said. "There's a general belief among many people that the parents who are not involved need to be involved simply because, most of the time, those are the children who have the greatest need for parental involvement."