Schools try to fit in parent-teacher conferences

Indiana schools are finding creative ways to squeeze in parent-teacher conferences after the state ruled that the sessions
could no longer count toward instructional time.

Fort Wayne Community Schools says it will reduce teachers’ professional
development time to allow for parent-teacher conferences. The district is delaying school start times at some schools and
extending monthly staff meetings at others to allow teachers time for professional development.

The plan is considered
a pilot project this year and could be changed, officials said.

"This is not a perfect solution," Superintendent
Wendy Robinson said. "We know it’s going to be bumpy the first year … but I think it’s a start."

schools superintendent Tony Bennett announced in March that half-days and parent-teacher conference days would no longer count
toward the required 180 school days each year. He said the new policy would ensure that students get a full 180 days of instruction.

That left districts to either cancel parent-teacher conferences or find new ways to schedule them. Teachers say the
meetings are critical to getting parents involved with their children’s education.

The Department of Education
says school districts can add days to the school calendar to schedule the conferences, but districts say that would cost thousands
of dollars. Teacher contracts prohibit teachers from coming in on their days off and can stipulate that districts can’t add
unpaid days without negotiating with the union.

Fort Wayne Community Schools has estimated that adding even one
day to its schedule would cost $633,000.

Robinson said she tried to negotiate with the state to allow the district
to handle conferences as it has in years past — by giving students half days off from school so parents could meet with
teachers during that time. But she said the Department of Education wouldn’t budge.

The Fort Wayne Education Association,
which represents the district’s teachers, approved the plan for this year, but the idea will have to go to the bargaining
table if the changes continue beyond this year, said Steve Brace, executive director of the union.

"This pilot
does put a burden on the teachers," Brace said. "This is going to be difficult in a lot of situations, but we are
going to make it work."

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