School districts battling irresponsible parenting and increasing student absences have come up with a system for punishing truancies: your kids don’t get detention – you go straight to prison and serve time for their unauthorized absences.
The law was most recently adopted by Florida’s Palm Beach County school district. If students miss too much school – more than 15 days over a three-month period – parents could serve jail time. It’s not a new concept; according to the Florida Sun Sentinel, the state has long had a law requiring that parents face up to two months of jail time for a child with excessive truancies. However, there was no way to enforce the law until recently, when a new court was formed by the state to concentrate on truancy cases.
According to the Sentinel, the issue is surprisingly pervasive. In the 2009-2010 school year, over 6 percent of the county’s nearly 200,000 students were absent at least 21 times without an excuse.
Several other states are in favor of strict truancy policies, as well. In Orange County, Calif., at least five parents have gone to jail since a tough anti-truancy law went into effect earlier this year. Nearly a dozen parents in Baltimore City were sent to prison for their kids’ absences earlier this year according to the Baltimore Sun. And according to Yahoo News, judges in Alabama, Texas and North Carolina – among other states – have also used truancy laws to send parents to jail.
So is the threat of jail time the best motivator for parents to get their kids back in the classroom? There’s the obvious paradox, summed up by Amy Reiter of The Stir: “If the parent is in jail, how will she then help get her kid to school?” And some parents’ extenuating circumstances make it difficult for them to ensure their children’s attendance. One Palm Beach mother suffering from lupus told the Sun Sentinel that her condition made it impossible for her to walk them to and from school, so her 8- and 10-year-old daughters missed more than two weeks of class. “I knew it was illegal for them not to go, but I couldn’t walk them there,” Genese Adams said. A Boys Town social worker went to her home and helped her get public bus passes.
Earlier this year, according to the Yahoo News story, the NAACP filed suit against a school district in Pennsylvania that had fined a woman $8,000 over her children’s truancy. The organization argued that the kids had stopped going to school because they were being bullied and harassed.
The bottom line, say bloggers like Reiter, is that teens need to learn to take responsibility for their own attendance – and throwing mom or dad in jail won’t have much impact on their still-developing senses of personal responsibility.
What do you think about the truancy law? Should there be wiggle room for extenuating circumstances? Or should those parents who don’t make arrangements to get their kids to school be punished?