The Associated Press, June 16, 1999

Bad Manners

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Add another "R" to the reading, 'ritin' and 'rithmetic being taught in Louisiana classrooms: respect.

Lawmakers are 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.

The bill, passed by the Senate last month and the House this week, awaits only a final Senate vote on House amendments before the Legislature adjourns Monday night. It may be a national first.

Requiring respect is one way to add discipline, the Republican governor insists: "It'll make a difference. It becomes habitual."

Says who?

"It's not anything they can legislate," said Mark Teal, who has taught for 14 years in the town of Sulphur. "They'd have to pass laws on the parents."

Asia Wyman, 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 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," she said Tuesday.

It could be the first such law in the nation. 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.

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

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

The measure doesn't outline enforcement. It leaves punishment up to school boards, though the House eliminated expulsion or suspension as options. That leaves even some supporters in a quandary.

"If this passes and becomes law, how will it be enforced?" Ms. Kennedy said. "There are so many laws on the books now that students do not follow and sometimes, teachers cannot enforce them."

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