"The Four Rs:" Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic and Rights

June 17, 1999 12:00 am

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BATON ROUGE, LA – “Yes, Sir” and “No, Ma’am” is about to become the law in Louisiana’s classrooms, as the Legislature is poised to pass 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 Associated Press reported.

The Senate approved the bill 34-5 last month, the House 89-19 this week on what could be the first such law in the nation. The bill leaves it up to school boards to decide the punishment, though the House eliminated expulsion or suspension as an option.

Advocates say that enforcing this kind of law would generate discipline, while critics, remain skeptical.

“A school is not an army and students should be encouraged to question, inquire and voice their concerns,” Joe Cook, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana told MSNBC News. “Respect between both parties is required and the legislature is showing their disrespect for the schools and the educational system by proposing such legislation.”

Teachers and students question the efficacy of this bill as well.

“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.”

Cook told MSNBC that this legislation skirts the real issue that has turned Louisiana schools into a “third-world education system.”

“Let’s focus on the real problems in the schools,” Cook said. “Let’s ask the legislature to fix the crumbling walls and the bathrooms where the plumbing doesn’t work. What we have from the legislature is window dressing — they’re picking out window curtains while the school buildings are crumbling around them.”

According to the AP, 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 chose 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.

This is not the first time the ACLU has taken issue with the state of the Louisiana school system. Read the ACLU’s release at /news/n031297b.html. And learn more about the covenant marriage law at /news/w081897b.html

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