AUSTIN – Texas parents beware: miss a meeting with your child's teacher and it could cost you a $500 fine and a criminal record.
A Republican state lawmaker from Baytown has filed a bill that would charge parents of public school students with a Class C misdemeanor and fine them for playing hooky from a scheduled parent-teacher conference.
Excuses are allowed, but be prepared to have a good one. In a state that allows corporal punishment, this could subject parents to a good spanking.
Rep. Wayne Smith said Wednesday he wants to get parents involved in their child's education.
"I think it helps the kids for the parents and teachers to communicate. That's all the intent was," Smith said, adding he talked to teachers, including his daughter, who teaches in junior high, before filing the bill.
"The concept is to get parents in the classroom," he said.
Kathy Carlson, a fifth-grade teacher at Furneaux Elementary School in Carrollton, said she's had a handful of parents who skip meetings with teachers. But she winced at the idea of a criminal charge.
"I don't know if we need to call it criminal. I would rather see accountability brought a different way, rather than fines or punishments," Carlson said.
"On the whole, parents want what's best for their kids," she said. "Sometimes I think they think we're out to get them. When you're talking about fining and pressing criminal charges, it kind of reflects that attitude."
Carlson said she used to teach at a school in Irving with many children of illegal immigrants.
"They were afraid to come to parent-teacher conferences because they were almost afraid of the authority," of the school district, she said.
Under Smith's bill, schools would send parents a notice for a meeting with three proposed dates by certified mail. If parents don't respond or schedule a meeting and don't show without prior notice, they could be punished.
Parents could avoid prosecution if they have a "reasonable excuse" for not showing up. State education officials or local school districts would probably be responsible for defining reasonable.
Fines collected would go to the district for teacher pay raises or to buy supplies.
Parents in Texas already can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor if their child is skipping school and they are deemed responsible for the truancy. Smith's bill on the missed meetings would seem to face long odds to becoming law.
Rep. Rob Eissler, a Republican from The Woodlands who chairs the House Public Education Committee, has said he's concerned about how it would be enforced.
Austin parent Mary Christine Reed has children in third and seventh grades and is involved in her elementary school parent-teacher association. She said she always keeps her scheduled meetings with teachers or made arrangements when she couldn't.
Reed knows of some problems teachers have had, but as a parent, wonders if a steep fine or criminal charge would make them worse.
Some parents have job or transpiration issues that make it difficult to keep appointments, Reed said. She is a lawyer who works with many low-income clients.
"I think the idea is really misguided," said Reed. "If the idea is to create communication, to send them into the criminal justice system ... is going to do nothing but have a negative impact. It would make parents more scared of the school."