FREMONT — Usually about 2½ months into the school year, parents make plans to meet with their child's teacher and discuss how the student is progressing. But because of budget cuts, no formal parent conference days were scheduled in Fremont this year.
Instead, by the end of today, many parents will have received only their child's report card.
The elimination of the one-to-one face time has put some parents at odds with teachers or the school district, but others say they understand the constraints educators are under and feel for their plight.
Meanwhile, both school district officials and the teachers union maintain that parents whose kids are struggling will continue to hear from teachers — by phone or e-mail, at the very least, if not in person.
The district issued a statement to parents earlier this year that "teachers take their professional responsibility seriously and understand the critical importance of ongoing communication with parents. ... As always, teachers are willing to confer with parents when needs arise."
Steve Betando, assistant superintendent of human resources, said, "My expectation is that if a parent requests a conference, the teacher would meet. It might be difficult to find a time, but the expectation is they'll still meet."
While a number of parents reported that their children's teachers were willing to meet with them upon request, a greater number of parents who contacted Bay Area News Group said they were denied conferences when they requested in-person meetings because their children aren't exhibiting problems in school.
The notion that only parents of struggling students will have the teacher's attention doesn't sit well with Niles Elementary School parent Lisa Ogrey or some of the 50 parents from whom she's heard.
"Just because my kids are high-performing shouldn't mean I shouldn't have a right to have access to the teachers," she said.
At the same time, Ogrey said she understands that elementary teachers are under tremendous stress, having lost their prep periods and are having to teach science, physical education and a new math curriculum this year. It's become commonplace to see teachers at school until 8 p.m. and on weekends, she said.
Brannin Dorsey, president of the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association, said a number of teachers also have had to adjust to teaching new grade levels because last year's temporary teachers were let go as part of budget cuts.
"Parents are expecting face-to-face conferences, but when teachers don't have any time, sometimes an e-mail is the best they can do," she said.
Multiple parents said the elimination of the conferences represents a step backward for a district whose leaders repeatedly have stated that improving communications with stakeholders is one of their top priorities, or that it discourages parents from becoming more involved in their children's education. They worry that once conferences are eliminated, it will become more difficult to bring them back.
Others said they would not miss the conferences as much if all teachers used iParent, a software the district has adopted for teachers to post grades and keep parents informed of what's going on in the classroom.
The problem, Dorsey said, is that not all teachers have working computers in their classrooms, and that elementary teachers don't have the ability to post grades.
"When the district can provide the infrastructure, we can start having a conversation about having all teachers use iParent," she said.
Chadbourne Elementary School parent Julie Dunkle said she knows from having taught previously how pressed for time teachers are and does not plan to request a conference for the sake of meeting unless she has a legitimate concern about her child's progress.
However, she is unhappy by what some see as an unofficial "protest" by teachers not to meet with parents and feel this is not the year to play hardball with the district.
"I think they're trying to send a message to the district" about the cuts, she said. "I think part of it is they don't understand the magnitude of the fiscal crisis in the state. ... (The cuts made) are not coming back next year. There's going to have to be more cuts."