The Associated Press, June 15, 1999

Louisiana Schools: Readin', Ritin', Rithmetic and Respect

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Respect is about to become the law in Louisiana's classrooms.

The Legislature is on the verge of passing Gov. Mike Foster's bill requiring students to address teachers and other school employees as "ma'am" or "sir" or use the appropriate title of Mr., Miss, Ms. or Mrs.

It could be the first such law in the nation.

Lest it be dismissed as a knee-jerk answer to the recent violence at Columbine High and other schools, the Republican governor stressed: "It's something I've been thinking about for a long time."

The Senate approved the bill 34-5 last month, the House 89-19 this week. A final Senate vote on House amendments could take place some time before Monday night when the Legislature adjourns.

The bill leaves it up to school boards to decide the punishment, though the House eliminated expulsion or suspension as an option.

Around the country, some school systems require parents or students to sign codes of discipline. Some states, notably Arkansas and Georgia, require "character education," teaching honesty, fairness and respect for others.

But Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington, said she knows of no other such attempt to require respectful conversation through state law.

"We're not trying to say this is the answer to discipline, but what do we have to lose?" said the bill's Senate sponsor, Donald Cravins, a Democrat.

Many teachers and students are skeptical.

"It's not going to solve our problems," said Mark Teal, a 14-year teacher in the town of Sulphur. "I believe our problems will be solved in the homes."

Asia Ayman, an eighth-grader in New Orleans, said: "Kids don't respect their parents at home. What makes them think they're going to go to school and respect their teachers?"

But retired teacher Jean Kennedy of New Orleans said she likes the idea.

"I agree with those who say you can't really legislate respect," she said, "but I think it's a good idea to try whatever method there might be to raise the consciousness of students and parents, and this may be a way of doing that."

The bill would apply to kindergarten through fifth grade in the school year that starts this fall. Higher grades would be phased in one year at a time.

Two years ago, Louisiana enacted the nation's first covenant marriage law, which lets couples choice a type of marriage license that makes it more difficult to get divorced. Louisiana has also adopted some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation.

Return to Newsroom Index or to Table of Contents