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Legislating good parenting

The same Indiana lawmakers intent on creating more charter schools – free from the regulations placed on traditional public schools – are busy attempting to place new regulations on traditional public schools.

House Bill 1307, introduced by Democrat Linda Lawson of Hammond, would require schools to add parental involvement provisions to discipline rules regarding bullying. In other words, if your kid gets in trouble at school, you will be required to perform three hours of service per school term.

This one raises so many questions that it could take the entire session to sort them out. In two-parent families, are both parents required to serve? In the case of divorce, does only the custodial parent serve? If there's shared custody, do the parents split the time? What about foster parents or guardians?

Who at the school will be required to track this? What constitutes parent involvement? If a family has two or three students in trouble, are the requirements doubled or tripled? What if the parent has a debilitating illness or works two or three jobs? What happens to the student if the parent fails to serve?

The proposal represents a burdensome new requirement for schools. My sister-in-law teaches at a Florida charter school where parents are required to perform a certain number of "volunteer" hours as a condition of enrollment. The book-keeping requirements for the service hours fall to the classroom teachers and, according to my-sister-in-law, consume a great deal of time outside the school day in tracking hours, contacting parents who aren't meeting the requirements and coming up with ways for parents to serve. Her school serves a low-income population where most of the parents work, so it's not easy for them to volunteer during the school day. Some families have lost their places in the school for failing to comply. I don't see how that serves students well.

At its heart, the proposed bill and similar parent involvement requirements are efforts to legislate good parenting. I'm not sure it's possible. School "reformers" like to say it's all about the kids, but they always seem to slide back into blame-the-parents mode.

Why not focus on the students and do everything possible to ensure they will become better parents than the ones they were dealt?

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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