HOUMA, La. (AP) -- Some parents of students at Mulberry Elementary School in Houma say a program that rewards high-performing students is an unfair invasion of privacy, but school officials maintain it's an incentive for academic success.

According to a Facebook posting for the Mulberry Elementary Parent Teacher Club, students who score Advanced or Mastery, or improve by a level from the previous year, such as from Approaching Basic to Basic, on the iLEAP and LEAP annual assessment tests will be allowed 'free dress' for the first month of school. The students who did not score high or improve will continue wearing their traditional khaki and navy uniforms.

It's one of the many ways schools reward students for their performance, Terrebonne Parish Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Carol Davis told The Courier (

Schools decide their own incentives, she said. Some throw pizza parties or distribute trophies for high performance. Others, like Mulberry, allow students 'dress down' days, where they can wear casual, school-appropriate clothing instead of their uniform.

'It's been in place for a long time,' Davis said. 'A lot of parents like that.'

But a handful of parents, particularly those with special-needs children, think the reward system should be reconsidered, according to a thread on the parent and teacher association's Facebook page.

Elizabeth Newman, the mother of a special education student, said the reward program is too exclusive and invades students' privacy.

Newman said it also draws attention to the children who didn't make the grade, as well as those who can't.

'It's awesome those kids test well, but not everyone can,' she said, adding her daughter, who suffers mental and physical disabilities, works just as hard in school as the other students. 'I don't want to take the reward away from every kid, but there should be a way to include the special education population.'

Newman said her family has struggled through the 'free dress' period before, and they aren't looking forward to doing it again.

'She would come home and cry,' Newman recalled. 'She would say, `So and so had on jeans. Why can't I wear that?' '

Newman said it was difficult to explain to her daughter, who is now 11, why she couldn't participate.

'They already feel different. They don't need help,' Newman said. 'They need help feeling like they're just like everybody else.'

It's also a privacy concern, she added.

'We don't put their report cards on them,' she said. 'But if you drive up to school, you can see what kids tested Mastery and what kids didn't.'

Newman said she has voiced her concerns to School Board officials in the past, but she was told nothing could be done.

Davis said she has not received any phone calls about the issue, but she encouraged parents to contact her or the school's principal if they have concerns. She said that's a better solution than turning to Facebook.

Principal Gwen Fergusen couldn't be reached for comment.

Information from: The Courier,

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