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Katherine Lee

Should Parents Go to Jail If Kids Miss Too Much School?

By May 17, 2010

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A new bill in California, which has already passed the state Senate, would make it possible for parents to be punished by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine if their kids are absent from school too much (a separate bill defines chronic absence as missing 10 percent or more of school days without a valid excuse).

The bill's sponsors argue that chronic truancy is not only a major contributor to high drop-out rates and poorly-educated generations of kids, but is also a factor in high crime rates (lawmakers say as many as three-quarters of California inmates are high-school dropouts).

Do you think this is an example of too much government or an example of a policy that other states should start considering? I think it's all well and fine to encourage parents to send their kids to school, but it may be too simplistic a tactic to just threaten parents with jail time without also improving schools and otherwise supporting families so that their kids stay away from crime. What happens when those kids who are on their way to delinquency stay in school? Won't that make schools less safe for those who are there to learn?

Jail for parents of chronically truant kids may make great headlines for politicians but this strikes me as a simplistic answer to a very complicated problem.

May 17, 2010 at 8:20 pm
(1) Linda says:

Having been a teacher in an urban school system, I think this is a good idea. Perhaps now parents and kids will take school more seriously.

May 17, 2010 at 11:21 pm
(2) Kim Daniel says:

“…too simplistic a tactic to just threaten parents with jail time without also improving schools and otherwise supporting families so that their kids stay away from crime.”

Katherine Lee, About.com Guide to Child Parenting

I agree completely with Katherine Lee’s assessment of this bill. Although it’s probably not good “form”, I apologize in advance for the length of this post. The absurdity of this concept stuns me. Just expanding on the two possible solutions presented by Ms. Lee generated a myriad of arguments in favor of their implementation. Examining the likely outcomes resulting from the enforcement of this law exposed an additional myriad of what seem to me obvious flaws in the logic used by those proposing the bill.

Many chronically truant children already live in poverty and are able to skip school repeatedly because their parent or parents must work, typically in industries that are not family friendly. These parents cannot afford to lose their jobs by taking time off work to deal with a truant child on a daily basis without risking the already limited financial resources of the entire family. What will be the logical outcome if parents are forced to choose between their jobs or jail, their meager incomes or a large fine? Teen-agers, in their quest for independence, are no longer completely controllable, making this an impossible situation for struggling parents.

Up to one year of jail for a parent of a chronically truant child would increase the struggles of these already at risk families. In single parent homes, these children and any siblings could end up in foster care if the parent is jailed. Very young children could easily be traumatized by this separation from their parent as well as by the probable separation from other siblings, depending on the number of children in the family and the availability of foster homes able to accommodate more than one child.

Although foster care is certainly a better alternative than leaving children to fend for themselves, it was never intended as a remedy for the shortsightedness of those who proposed and approved this bill. Neither is foster care intended for children, truant or not, who have loving parents, however poor, overworked, or overwhelmed they may be.

In the case of a two-parent home, even if the jailed parent is allowed out on work release, thus maintaining the same family income, great hardship is still imposed on the entire family. The remaining parent must deal alone with the truant child, his or her siblings who may develop issues resulting from the perceived loss of a parent as well as now only having one pillar of support in the family, work, family health issues, and shouldering household responsibilities, all normally faced with at least the support of a spouse. Furthermore, in a two parent household, how will the decision as to which parent should be jailed be made, or will both be jailed, either at once or successively?

Levying a $2000 fine on a low income family for chronic truancy reduces a family’s already meager resources, and would not be helpful in any way, shape, or form for the ultimate issues the proposed law is intended to address, although it might help California make up a very minute portion of its huge deficit. Punishing an entire family for a child’s truancy by jailing parents or imposing a $2000 fine is simply counter-intuitive.

Chronically truant children are like all other children; if a child has a problem or problems, a child often responds by acting out. Adequate social supports for at-risk children, such as the chronically truant (as well as for their parents), would go much farther to reduce truancy and the resulting drop-out rates and lower earning capabilities which may lead to criminal activity. Improving schools so that at-risk children are identified early and adequately supported before truancy begins by setting up classes and instituting programs designed to increase their skills and self-esteem would be much more effective than letting them fail repeatedly because their needs would cause the “assembly line of teaching” to stop and wait for them. The current education system, due to lack of funding and other problems, focuses on meeting the needs of many at the expense of a few in order to mass-produce arbitrary test scores. Many children fall through the cracks of the current education system. Yes, this fosters the cycle of poverty, which in turn can increase crime.

The majority of people, including the majority of students, want to do well and typically do the best they can. There comes a point, however, when some lose hope of ever succeeding and give up trying to do what they perceive as impossible. Like everyone, children need to be encouraged; if they are struggling, children need to be encouraged even more then taught the necessary skills to improve. Just as telling a child repeatedly that he or she is a “bad kid”, or “stupid”, or “lazy”, or any of a number of other negative labels is emotionally damaging and fosters a negative self-image, so positive “labeling”, or verbally recognizing a child’s strengths, such as perseverance, effort, kindness, etc., fosters a positive self-image.

When children struggle in school, they are miserable because their desire is to do well. Obviously, no one likes to feel bad. If children are unable to do well on their own, and unable to find needed support to improve, they either feel hopeless, giving up and succumbing to depression or apathy, or become angry and defiant. Most would agree that it is up to adults to recognize issues in children and proceed to help them overcome their challenges. Without caring adults available to support and encourage them to keep trying when they do not know how to solve their own issues, they quit. Neglecting to recognize and help struggling children effectively only teaches them a lesson in giving up.

Although children do not live in a vacuum and issues outside of school often are negatively affecting their ability to perform well, schools are the mostly likely place where children with problems can be identified early on and additional support systems and their corresponding services can be enlisted for assistance. Whenever a child’s school performance suffers, whether the cause is attributed to school or other sources, school performance issues can and should be addressed by the school systems before children begin to see themselves as failures. Appropriate early intervention for children exhibiting difficulties, regardless of the origin or type of issue, is seen as the key to effectively help children believe in themselves and, ultimately, achieve success. Instrumental to this end is designing and implementing systems that encourage learning in an environment that not only meets the needs of the many but also allows the gifted to excel in addition to assisting struggling children so that they are ensured the opportunity to catch up with their peers, rather than falling farther behind with each progressive year.

Improved schools, with increased focus on meeting the needs of all students, including implementation of systems to support children’s healthy emotional development, promote a positive and encouraging learning environment. Children who feel successful in school are unlikely to skip a single day, much less become habitual truants. Effective systems to identify and support at-risk families will further reduce truancy, as parents with adequate support systems in place have more physical and emotional resources available for their children as well as a more positive outlook for their own and their children’s futures, an attitude which children will likely adopt, thus increasing their own chances of success. Adequate support allows parents who previously spent their time and energy for day-to-day survival to invest in further improving their family’s economic status and thus the family’s overall well-being by going to school or training for better jobs, effectively modeling successful behavior for their children. As greater numbers of students graduate high school, graduate college, and become well-adjusted and productive members of society, everyone benefits from these solutions in the long run.

Sadly, it appears obvious to me that the ramifications of California’s proposed law have not been thoroughly examined nor have any alternatives offering better outcomes been considered. This type of “quick fix” rarely works. I will admit that these solutions will need funding, but as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. Improved schools and better support systems are not the “quick fix” intended by those who submitted this bill, but “quick fixes” are rarely effective resolutions to any problem. Indeed, as the author of this article states, this bill, already by California’s state Senate, offers a simplistic solution to a complex problem, although to label this bill as a “solution” affords it much more credit than is deserved.

May 18, 2010 at 6:14 am
(3) curbed says:

i agree wit Linda

May 18, 2010 at 9:42 am
(4) Carolyn Elliott says:

Putting a parent in jail because their child doesn’t go to school.

I don’t think so. What does that solve?

You need to get at the root as to WHY the child isn’t attending school.

Is it because Mom and Dad are working and don’t get the child ready?

Is it because there are other factors involved? i.e. child already knows the material and is bored? (possibly not in a challenging enough classes)

There may be other children in the household! What will it do to them by placing parents in jail because of nonattendance of one student ! This is ridiculous.

Are you trying to take the regulation of the child away from the parent? Show respect for the family. Work with them not against them.

I feel this truly needs to be researched much more before you make such a stupid regulation. Where are we anyway Russia? Afghanistan? I thought this was the USA.

May 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm
(5) Ray Marks says:

I agree with Kim on most of her comments. The one I don’t agree on is a parent shouldn’t have to miss work when there kid is truant. Keeping in mind that if the kid wasn’t truant to begin with, there would be no problem. What if kids do this just to spite there parents, like my kid. Should I go to jail just because my son is being a bugger. I don’t think so. There is only one option here, Juvi hall.

May 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm
(6) Student says:

this has to be the dumbest law ever…i’m a student and i skip school sometimes because the classes are boring and when i do skip class all i go do is go to the library and read something that fits my interest…not very criminal like if you ask me…they should also fix the classes that we’re able to get…i’m aiming to enter the police force once i get a bachelors and the classes at my high school don’t offer any criminology so when i do skip class i’m usually studying about what i need so i can get a head start

June 1, 2010 at 2:38 am
(7) monnie says:

truant kids…hmm… so you think its the parents fault?try society more like it. The education system was introduced as mandatory to help protect kids from child labour during the industrial revolution, to keep kids from factory work. now its a mass way to stuff propaganda down everyones throat. personally I htink the education system the way it is should be crushed.
In the indigenous way, before colonialization and the creation of residential schools, here in North America, children spent their first part of their childhood at their mothers side, and then when they were around 10-12yrs old, a community member would have noticed that they had a particular interest or ability in doing something and they would have then mentored him through to adulthood in that area. All life skills were taught with a lifetime of learning by seeing and listening and doing. Children were the CENTER of the community, not a burden on their parents or their community, and they grew up to know all that they needed to know to survive and live in that community. There were rites of passage, not only from childhood into adulthood, but for many things. And when a couple were interested in getting married, they were each taken aside and counselled in preparation of that marriage and not allowed to be married until they learned what was to be expected of them. If there was anyone who faultered in following he expectations of the society, they were dealt with immediately, by whomever saw their actions. Many times, being cuaght for doind somethign bad brough shame to themselves and their family and immediate restitution was always expected.

What I am trying to say is that modern society doesnt have any sort of structure. People are randomly living, and are seriously out of balance. Society has put the ecomomy before anything else and the stressers of day to day to survive are excrusiating. How can a family be balanced when a child spends all day being in some form of daycare or educational center other than with the parent. Self worth and love and a million other things which used to flourish naturally are not anywhere close to being recognizable in the children of todays society.

Our children do not want to go to school. Imagine, a whole world of interesting things for you to explore and you are trapped in a room with about 25-30 other kids, lined up in desks, being made to read and write all day. How much of that is retained in comparison to what a kid remembers from the fishing trip he took with you, or the baking of cookies you did at christmas time, how badly do you want to escape your little cubicle you sit in everyday? then think anout them. Young flourishing minds, with a million other things to do with their time just beyond their reach. The school structure is wrong. The idea was good and served its purpose in its time.
If the kids dont want to go to school. How can you blame a parent? What percentage of children skipping out on school should be diagnosed with ADHD, but dont have the money for medical bills, or the costs of perscriptions. Even with medication, my son takes 1 1/2 hours to get out of bed. His ODD means that anything I ask means he is going to fight against it, so rushing him and pushing him to get out of the door becomes a huge fight, and in my homefront, I choose my battles carefullly. I have a daughter who is also ADHD combined, with anxiety disorder, ODD and depression which complicates matters even more. I am certain that between the two of them they have been late at least 50% of the time, and missed at least the first class 10-20% of the time.
As a single parent, should I go to jail because they are so intolerable to live with in the mornings? I would gladly go to have the vacation away from them, but then who would watch my children for me? I have nobody, so then we get to involve social services, because I will be locked up for a month and have nowhere for the children to go. Interesting. All this when its our present societal structure which is failing our children , our familes , our community, and our nation.

June 15, 2010 at 7:59 am
(8) Another Student. says:

Honestly what have they come to Nowadays. As a child who suffers from this, it is not because I do not like school. I like school, however, the classes are too boring for me. I skip school due to this. I haven’t been in all Honors till this year (Due to me not putting in effort) but at the start of the year, it was a challenge. But about Midway through the year I realized that I know all of the material. And I can correct my teachers on their many errors. (My English teacher misspelled “Sarcastic.”) I honestly feel as though this bill will but many kids in misery in my situation. And even though I have realized i’m more intelligent than the majority of my teachers they hold grudges against me. When I try to answer a question they tell me to put my hand down. I’ve informed the school but they won’t do anything about it. I’ve told my parents and they can’t do anything about it. So I started skipping school. I realize this wasn’t the best solution but it is the only thing I can do.

October 21, 2010 at 10:19 am
(9) G. McIntosh says:

The idea is insane! Have government gotten so far removed they refuse to deal with the real world. Whose going to jail…Mom or the absentee Dad if there is one? whose going to regulate the parents employment, tend to homes and their other sibs while detained. It’s hardship enough having no transportation getting from one to two jobs, getting children to Drs. and babies to sitters. Would we actually consider hiring police to carry out the dubious task of removing parents from their jobs or homes and impose fines or jail time when they too become truant…will we also arrest Grandma. Are school officials to be involved in documenting families social problems? I actually cannot believe I am writing this! If education only nets this kind of mindset with only solutions such as this, perhaps no child should go to school. So many children have no control over homelife, to set them up for more abuse by angry and distraught parents and further victimize them by schoolboard and police is unthinkable.

December 6, 2010 at 2:54 am
(10) Ryan says:

Look i dont like this idea because im in tenth grade and i have alot of missed days and lates and i dont want my parents going to jail why cant it just be me having to do community service and probation. :(

January 18, 2011 at 8:36 am
(11) Josie says:

What if a kid gets sick a lot and has medical excuses? It’s not fair for the parents to go to jail or get punished.

February 2, 2011 at 8:28 pm
(12) Student says:

Why should a parent go to jail if they can’t do anything about it… My brother is 16 and dislikes school and wants to drop out and is in the process of dropping out… My mom has tried everything and so why should my mom go to jail if she can’t do anything to persuade him to go to school… He hates school and doesn’t want to go it should be his problem not my mothers… This is the dumbest law ever…

March 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm
(13) Mike says:

this society is rediculous. We are technically forced to do things we dont want and we have to pay in order to live, which is ultimately free and should be so. School is just another thing we are forced to do. your parents and probably you going to jail because of not attending school? Thats controlling if you ask me. We are all being brainwashed to believe that there is something in this world that makes it nessesary to attend school or go to work or follow the rules. I honestly dont think there is. But im just a junior in high school so im “wrong” and “dont know any better”. Now honestly im quite angry that i spent this long in school and i dont want to attend anymore. I thought you should be able to choose what you want to do but in this society you cant. This law shows you that we have no choice. if You Skip school, you go to jail. If you drop out, youre a failure. They obviously are choosing what we do for us and if we dont follow through we are punished. Rediculous.

April 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm
(14) Sophmore Student says:

i think that putting parents in jail is the most rediculous thing ever! i agree with everyone who thinks this is a bit Lame. Parents shouldn’t be put to jail or fined just because their children doesnt go to school. i know that i miss a lot of school days, but if my parents got put to jail and get a fine, i would be pretty mad. i know the consequences and im sure everyone else that does skip does too! but its our choice to chose if we want to skip or not. (since we know the consequences) i know that parents cant really do much about it of their children skips/ditches while theyre at work or home, because parents wont know until the school calls home…. goodness! i just dont even know what to say anymore, this is beyond Rediculous to do this to parents!!! Parents cant CONTROLL kids! and to Linda, the “teacher” who made the first comment. how would you feel if your students left school and u didnt know about it until the school called home? and they did this A LOT?! you wouldnt like it and yess you’ll probably give your child a Long Lecture but they dont listen to a thing you say cause it comes on one ear and out the other. you wouldnt be able to do much either if they continue to skip/ditch. so just give it a thought about you getting jailed and fined because you child.

Anyways i know that im choosing the hard ways to do things, and i know the consequences NOT MY PARENTS! sorry but this is getting me a bit dissapointed. this is all im going to say for now.

April 12, 2011 at 11:55 am
(15) Kimberly says:

We have a similar law in our school district and I am being constantly threatened with jail or fines because my son misses school or is late for school frequently. Never mind that the school is aware of my son’s health issues, year round allergies and asthma, or emotional issues, ADHD.

f they were to put me in jail they would only be making it worse for my son. I am the one trying to help him, everyone else just won’t deal with him. If they were to fine me they would only be taking away money needed for his 4 daily asthma medications and weekly therapist sessions. So who really benefits from this law? Certainly not I and certainly not my son.

May 5, 2011 at 7:41 pm
(16) brian viramontes says:

yes ,we need help cause my brother ,s son he is 15 yr old son are doing drugs an he lets him mis school ditch,s school what can you do too help

June 11, 2011 at 2:47 am
(17) Tori says:

r u 4 real?parents have no rights in today’sworld. we r punished for disciplining our children, critized 4 how we rear them. there is a point in life where the kid/child need 2 be held accountable 4 their actions.u can tell a child 2 go 2 school, drop him right in front of the entrance, then u leave , then he/she goes somewhere else. we see it so many times when teachers, police & those who think they know it all bud thier nose into matters that they have no business getting into.Damned if we do/damned if we don’t. which is it ?

June 11, 2011 at 2:55 am
(18) Tori says:

r u for real? absolutely not. there is only so much a parent can do with out the shcool, police getting invloved… They can beat , yell, intimidate our children , but as the parent how dare we. we r ridiculed 4 every thing we do. When the heck is our gov’t stop budding into matters that do not concern them. then we as parents r blamed when they r on the street being mischievous. Damned if we do/ damned if we don’t .

July 5, 2012 at 3:02 am
(19) Student in the uk says:

this is stuiped i cant got to school because i cant get to sleep bcuz of skl in the first place

December 3, 2012 at 11:54 am
(20) Jr higher says:

I think this law is dumb because i missed about 13 days and its only the 2nd trimeter and i dont want my parents going to jail for something that is dumb i rather i pay the consequences than my parents having to

January 30, 2013 at 11:01 pm
(21) Amy S says:

I think that the government needs to work on the debt problem they have gotten our country into and stop trying to control our home lives. There was a time where there were small schools and most parents taught their children themselves. Now if you talk about homeschooling your kids and their current school catches wind of it, they are likely to call CPS on you. The new curriculum Common Core is horrible. They didn’t even ask the school departments or parents how they felt about switching it over. They just did it and took the Federal Grant. No more Mark Twain, no more learning about the constitution or bill of rights. It’s all about teaching our kids about Globalization in the New World. The constitution says you have the right to bear and rear your children without interference from the government. I think that people need to remember how important it is to exercise your rights. If you don’t, than you don’t get any rights at all. I think they are going a little too far and getting a too tyrannical.

September 23, 2013 at 10:33 pm
(22) ROBERTO Mendoza says:

Crazy Comments, sorry I am fro another coutry and like everithig here laws are stupid and controversial. ” 16 years old kid , he don’t want to attend school anymore, in the old days you can push them . Now they have the control, “I wiil call the police or the social services saying your are a bad mom or dad” In the other side if they are absent fromn the school is you fault. You has to be in the position were you don’t know what to do, you are trapped betwen 2 laws.
Crazy, the kids use the proteccion of the laws in their favor and screw you traying to educate them. I like to see what happend if everybody(moms and dads who had those problems, just drop the kids to the goverment so they can fixed.!!!

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