Starting next school year, parents at Proviso Township High Schools District 209 will be required to attend an annual orientation meeting. In April, the D209 school board voted unanimously to add the requirement to the district’s School-Parent Compact, which every student, parent and/or legal guardian is required to sign. 

During a June 12 regular meeting, however, some board members said they still have concerns about the idea of mandatory meetings. 

The lingering concerns mentioned by those board members, Theresa Kelly and Della Patterson, prompted a debate about the appropriateness of a required meeting and whether it will accomplish what its supporters — particularly board member Rodney Alexander, who heads the Parent and Community Engagement Committee that produced the new policy — envision. 

“Can we force parents to come to a required meeting?” asked Kelly, noting that, while she wants to see more parental involvement and increased student achievement, she was concerned about whether or not the new policy met the “free and appropriate education rules.”

She also said that, since there are no consequences for parents who don’t attend the mandatory meeting, the district can’t say that the meeting is “required,” and indicated the effectiveness of the required meeting might be undercut by the lack of consequences. 

Dan Johnson, the district’s director of student and family services, said the required meeting, which was included in Board Policy 8:95, is unrelated to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — a law that says students with special education needs, disabilities and similar services should get a “free and appropriate public education” — which Kelly seemed to be referencing. 

“That’s separate from the parent meeting,” Johnson said, adding that the parent meeting is part of a more comprehensive School-Parent compact, which outlines the responsibilities of the school, parent and students. The required meeting is the first bullet point under the “Parent Responsibilities” section of the compact.

Johnson conceded that there are no consequences for parents who don’t attend the required meetings, but said the district is not approaching the meetings, and the wider School-Parent compact, “from a consequences standpoint.” 

District 209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez, echoing Johnson, said the district is approaching the required meeting from a “growth” perspective, not a “deficit” perspective, meaning that the district wants to focus on students’ and parents’ strengths and not their weaknesses. 

Board member Della Patterson said that, while she voted for the required meeting back in April, she didn’t “recall the word ‘require'” in the proposed measure. 

“One of my whole concerns with this compact was the word ‘mandatory,'” Patterson said, adding that the words mandatory and required are virtually the same thing. “You can’t make a parent do anything.” 

Patterson argued that the concept of requiring parents to attend a meeting might be off-putting for many, resulting in some parents deciding not to attend simply because the district is trying to make them. 

“We need to search for a better word,” Patterson said. “In this community, when you use the word ‘required,’ you’re going to get pushback because people think you’re making them do something.” 

Alexander said the required meeting will help cultivate a stronger partnership between the district and parents. The meeting, he said, will also help bolster “leading indicators,” such as school attendance, homework completion and classroom preparedness. 

He also explained that the specifics of the required meetings, such as the date it will be held and how it will be structured, are still being worked out in his committee, which includes local youth organizers, feeder school administrators, clergy, parents and other community members. 

“We use parent partnership as a cliché in this district and have done it for so long,” Alexander said. “With partnership is accountability, responsibility and shared input.” 

Board member Claudia Medina said the required meeting, and the overall compact, will help create new cultures at each of the district’s building. 

“I’m glad we’re [thinking] with a growth mindset instead of a deficit education mindset,” Medina said. 

Board President Ned Wager, who heads up the board’s Policy Committee, said the new policy “was not put together lightly,” and indicated that labeling the mandatory gathering a “required meeting” might at least underscore how important it is for parents to attend. 

“If the school said there was a required meeting, I would go to it,” he said.