Parental Responsibility: What Are the Limits?

June 5th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Should a father be held responsible when his 18-year-old fails the GED?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

A juvenile court judge in Ohio ordered 40 year-old Brian Gegner to make sure his high school dropout daughter earned her GED.

But when teenaged Brittney didn’t hit the books hard enough to pass the test, the judge threw the book at Brian Gegner, ordering the father jailed because the daughter failed.

Should a father be responsible when his 18 year-old daughter can’t do the math?

Yes, said the judge, who did the math like this: 6 months in jail for Brian Gegner for contributing to the unruliness of a minor by not following the court order to make Brittney get her GED.

Brittney—who lives with her mother, her one year-old daughter, and her boyfriend--started skipping school around fifth or sixth grade. It’s “ridiculously wrong” she said of her father to be jailed because of her failings.

Her mother volunteered to be locked up instead, noting that Brittney is almost 19. “She’s an adult now,” said Shana Roach, “and it’s not right to rip an innocent man from his home.”

But the judge stood firm, saying that the court retained jurisdiction because Brittney was a juvenile when the truancy case began.

Outraged child and family advocates urged supporters to call the judge and the governor of Ohio to demand Brian Gegner’s release from jail. Under the judge’s logic, they argued, the mothers and fathers of more than a million high school dropouts across America should all be jailed as well.

Within a week, the judge relented and released Brian Gegner on the condition that Brittney take classes to complete her GED by the next scheduled court date in July 2008. And the judge issued an ominous warning: if Brittney doesn’t attend classes four days a week, he’ll send her father back to jail.

Brittney’s step-mother is worried that jail time will cause Brian Gegner to lose his job. They tried to keep Brittney in school, she said, but “You’d take her to school and she’d go out the other door.”

Tell us what you think: What are the limits of a parent’s responsibility in educating a child? Does the lesson of jailing a parent get an A or an F?