Surely you've all heard the question: If a tree fell in the forest and no one was there to hear it, would it still make a noise? That is how I often feel in education. If we speak out about procedures and policies that need to be addressed, but no one is listening, does that make us mute? I believe it does. So what should people do when they have been rendered mute? Should they allow themselves to be muted or should they speak louder, making it clear they want to be heard? I recommend the second option.

Recently, it seems someone has been listening in McAllen ISD. September 27, I wrote a column about Texas' Paperwork Reduction Act, Section 11.164 of the Texas Education Code. This state law mandates what school districts can and cannot require of teachers when it comes to paperwork. Over the past couple of years, our mandatory paperwork has created mountains in the Rio Grande Valley. Although this law clearly states that "A unit or weekly lesson plan that outlines, in a brief and general manner, the information to be presented during each period at the secondary level or in each subject or topic at the elementary level," most teachers are required to complete lengthy lesson plans with several attachments. This is only one example of the antithesis of paper reduction.

Good news arrived recently. IDEA, McAllen ISD's committee with teacher representatives from every school in the district, is conducting research into paperwork requirements for a representative group of schools within the district. The results of this research should be presented to the school board since Texas law requires this governing body to limit the amount of paperwork being required of teachers. Speak up, teachers. This is your chance to be heard. Teachers in other districts, are your school boards listening?

Planning and Preparation Periods

Texas Education Code 21.404 mandates that teachers have at least 450 minutes of planning and preparation time within a two-week period. During this period, teachers cannot be required to participate in any other activity, and each planning period must be at least 45 minutes.

At the 21st Annual School Law Conference in Austin in 2006, Joey Moore from the Texas State Teachers' Association presented a workshop titled, Teachers' Rights? Who Knew?

A Refresher on Rights for Teachers Under the Texas Education Code. Moore covered planning and preparation periods in his workshop and provided two examples of case law:

"A teacher's planning and preparation period is ... for the use of the teacher as he or she sees fit, within the statutory boundaries, free from any duty mandated by the school district."

Chaffin v. Los Fresnos Indep. Sch. Dist., Docket No. 128-R10-1290 (Comm'r Educ. 1990).

"The statute was enacted for the purpose of giving teachers time to engage in parent-teacher conferences, reviewing students' homework, and planning and preparation as the teacher, not the administration, deems best. The statute clearly relieves the teacher of any duty during this period of time and prohibits the district and its administration from requiring the teacher to engage in any other activity the administration determines to be useful and important." Strater v.

Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., Docket No. 129-R8-685 (Comm'r Educ. 1985).

Recently, teachers working for a local charter system have shared with me that they rarely get planning periods as described by this law. I am awaiting a response from the Texas Education Agency to see if the law also protects these teachers. Teachers in public school systems have shared that they are being required to participate in daily team planning with no time allotted for personal planning and preparation time.

Districts need to reduce redundant and pointless paperwork and provide planning periods mandated by law so teachers can focus on the most important part of our jobs: our students.

Chris Ardis is in her 28th year of teaching, 27 of those in McAllen ISD. She is also a freelance writer. Chris is involved with a grassroots movement to transform public education called SOAR McAllen, which you can find on Facebook. You can email Chris at