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 misdemeanor and fine them for playing hooky from a scheduled parent-teacher conference.
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.
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 charging them.
"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. Parents who don't respond or who schedule a meeting and don't show up without notice 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.
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 parent-teacher association. She said she knows of some problems teachers have had, but as a parent, wonders if a steep fine or criminal charge would make them worse.
"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," Reed said. "It would make parents more scared of the school."