Parent Choice in Student Retention

The Texas House Committee on Public Education is discussing House Bill 3557, a bill that would grant a student’s parents the capacity to choose whether their child should repeat a grade.  Normally, this is a choice exercised by the school.  HB 3557 would flip the traditional model, allowing parents to decide what they think is best for their child in terms of advancing to the next grade.

This bill would only be in effect through September 1, 2022, because it is intended as a direct response to the learning loss experienced by many students during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The first months of the pandemic combined with the summer of 2020 total almost six months of lost instructional time.  That combined with any intermittent school closures or quarantines during the current school year (not to mention the potential differences between virtual and in-person learning) add up to a significant amount of lost instruction and learning overall.

According to the current draft of the bill, parents must make a written request to have their child retained for academic reasons.  If there is disagreement between the parents and the school, a retention committee must meet to consider whether holding the child back in the same grade is in the child’s best interests.  The retention committee would consist of a principal, the parents or guardians, and the child’s teacher(s).  However, after this meeting, the school must still honor the parents’ decision even if it disagrees with that choice.

There is no language currently within the bill that allows for a student to be retained for emotional or behavioral reasons.  However, if a parent has the final say, then it is reasonable to assume that a parent can have their child retained if they feel that their child is not ready for the social-emotional challenges of moving to the next grade.  They can simply call it an academic need instead.

Holding a child back from advancing to the next grade does not have a great reputation amongst education professionals.  It can create a loss of self-esteem and has long been associated with higher school drop-out rates.  That said, parents usually know what is best for their child.  Hopefully, the retention committee meetings that the bill calls for will create rich discussions between both parties, each with unique insight into what is best for the student to determine the right placement for the following school year.

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