When schools in Bismarck, N.D., scheduled parent-teacher conferences this school year, some chose a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday to avoid competing with the customary “church night” in the capital city, when local youths attend choir practice and other religious activities.
Turned out that the chosen Tuesday, which fell within the limited time frame for conferences outlined in state law, also proved troublesome. The conferences were scheduled for Nov. 4—Election Day.
Earlier this month, after school officials in the 10,600-student district learned of the scheduling problem, they told schools to change the date for parent-teacher meetings.
“We think that given the predicted turnout in this election and the interest in this election, we’re much better off avoiding [any conflicts] not only because of the teacher concerns, but parents would be conflicted, too,” said Bismarck Superintendent Paul Johnson.
Other North Dakota schools have had similar problems. A handful of schools in Mandan, Fargo, and other towns have also asked teachers to meet with parents between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The North Dakota Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has encouraged teachers to put their civic duties first.
“There are a lot of obligations for school districts to follow and they are trying to juggle busy schedules, but it really should have been a day [without] anything going on after school,” said NDEA President Dakota Draper.
In neighboring Minnesota, it isn’t an issue: The legislature has banned school activities in the evening of an election.
In Fargo, where about five schools have conferences scheduled, some principals have offered to fill in for teachers when they leave to vote. Even so, it could prove an especially hectic day for some teachers, according to Ellen Dunn, the president of the Fargo Education Association.
But she said many teachers will find a way to fit it all in because they want to set an example for their students.
“Especially for our secondary school teachers and our civics teachers, election day resonates with them,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the October 22, 2008 edition of Education Week