New respect law gets mixed reviews

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 7, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / July 7, 1999

If and when Gov. Foster signs the bill, the students in Louisiana’s publicschools will have to add a new “R” to the traditional three of reading, writing and arithmetic. That will be respect.The Louisiana Legislature recently passed a bill that would require all public school students to address teachers and school administrators as “Yes Sir,” “Yes Ma’am,” “No Sir” and “No Ma’am.” Foster and the Legislaturefeel they have to instill respect for elders in today’s youth.

But as Anya Millet, 14, of LaPlace said, “They, (adults), have to earn our respect, too.”The bill has it proponents and detractors. The biggest problem with thelegislation seems to be enforcement.

“You can’t enforce respect. Respect is a two-way street,” said St. John theBaptist School Superintendent Chris Donaldson. “I can’t tell you how wewill enforce this if it becomes law. But I can tell you that we will not beexpelling students for this.” Russ Wise, a former St. John School Board member who proposed the samestatute back in 1996, has a different slant on the issue.

“It doesn’t need to be enforced; this doesn’t have to be punitive,” he said.

“This is not teaching by punishment, this is teaching by repetition.

“This law gives support to teachers for the respect that they deserve.”Wesley Boyette, a 14 year-old student at East St. John High School, doesn’tthink the idea will work.

“Everybody is going to forget to do it anyway,” he said. “I just don’t thinkit’s a good idea.”However, Veronica Rodriguez, a mother and teacher from Des Allemands, said, “It’s a great idea, but I think it should be taught at home.””Yes,” said Wise, “respect should be taught at home. But a lot of parentshave forgotten to teach their children, and the only place for them to learn respect is in school. The schools cannot avoid the responsibility.”Legally, people like Joe Cook of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have a big problem with the legislation.

“It offends the First Amendment,” Cook said. “This form of salute is forcedspeech.”Cook said he will study the legislation some more, but he is pretty sure that constitutionally the bill will not be well received.

Echoing Donaldson, Cook said: “You can’t legislate respect. One has to earnrespect. The point of respect is to pay attention and listen to people.”Unfortunately,” he continued, “those in authority have not been listening to our children. The Legislature and the governor should be fixing ourcrumbling schools before they force kids into saluting a higher authority.”Though parents, teachers and school administrators seem to welcome this new legislation, the response of most of the students questioned about the bill can be summed up in the statement by 13 year-old Matt Boyette of LaPlace.

“That’s dumb,” he said.

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