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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 05/14/2010

California may jail parents if kids are truant

By Valerie Strauss

Talk about parental responsibility. The California Senate just passed a bill that could send parents to jail for up to a year if their kids -- from kindergarten through eighth grade -- miss too much school.

Senate Bill 1317 is actually a public safety measure, according to State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), because children who don’t attend school regularly or drop out early are more likely to turn to crime.

"Three-quarters of our state inmate population are high school dropouts," Leno was quoted as saying by the Fresno Bee.

According to the Associated Press, parents whose kids miss too much school could be subject to up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine, though judges could put the punishment on hold to give parents a chance to get their kids to class.

The Fresno Bee reported that the bill would apply to parents or guardians of children age 6 or older in kindergarten through eighth grade.

To find someone guilty under the bill, prosecutors would have to prove that the parents failed to reasonably supervise and encourage the student to attend school.

How much school is too much school to miss?

Chronic truancy would be as missing 10 percent or more of the school year without a valid excuse, the Bee reported.

The bill is the brainchild of San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

"It's much cheaper to focus to getting that elementary school student to school than it is prosecuting a homicide,” she was quoted as saying by the Bee.

Well, yes, presumably, it is. But putting parents in jail for this? If it is hard for a parent to somehow get their kid to go to school from home, you can imagine how hard it would be from jail. What about single parents? Where would the kids go? Should I keep on asking ridiculous questions about a ridiculous bill?

No, I think not. You can come up with your own.

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 14, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  california considers sending parents to jail, california passes truancy law, california's truancy bill, parents and jail and kids and truancy, senate bill 1317, truancy, truancy and california  
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For reasons stated by the columnist in her next to last paragraph, the idea of jailing parents for preventing their kids from being excessively truant is stupid. Fines and reductions in any government assistance or tax deductions or exemptions makes sense and would be significant inducements for some parents to accept more responsibility. The students should be held accountable too with attendance policies in schools and greater grading penalties for their being truant.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | May 14, 2010 1:15 AM | Report abuse

I would to see the logic model behind this one...

Legislators should have to show exactly how their ideas will solve the problem and project what the outcomes will be once their plans are implemented.

How much truancy are they expecting this to prevent?

How much is it going to cost to incarcerate these parents, and are those costs justified by the increased attendance as a result of this law?

What improvements in academic performance can be attributed to this law?

Because if they can't answer these basic questions, it means the laws haven't been fully thought through and this is just another stab in the dark by people who have absolutely no expertise in education, or juvenile justice for that matter.

Posted by: onifadee | May 14, 2010 1:16 AM | Report abuse

Giving parents the tools and incentives to properly discipline their child is a great idea.

Removing parents from the home (i.e. by jailing them) is a terrible idea.

Posted by: kcx7 | May 14, 2010 1:56 AM | Report abuse

If this law was in place a few decades ago, perhaps we wouldn't have had the trend-setting tech innovations which revolutionized our lives, since many of the hacker greats behind them are school or college dropouts. And California was the epicenter of it all!

Who's this California state senator batting for?

Posted by: georgythomas | May 14, 2010 2:33 AM | Report abuse

Jailed parents are much worse off in regards to helping their children then those at home. Who would take their place?
A much better idea would be a fine. Although a small fine would seem insignificant think about getting a $35.00 parking ticket. Its not such a big amount but if an educational ticket is as fractionally annoying as a parking ticket it would focus a parent's mind wonderfully. Imagine your mail containing a levy for $35.00 once a week for your son/daughter's truancy showing up in the mail, all while you go to work every day. I can hear the screaming now.

Posted by: jaysue | May 14, 2010 6:23 AM | Report abuse

I teach in Philadelphia and the city is currently looking at imposing a similar type of law. Fines and criminal penalties may be attached to parents of children who are truant OR commit offenses. Basically, this is giving schools and police a very heavy stick that they can wield against parents who abdicate parenting responsibilties.

It's a shame. However, Philadelphia has recently suffered some very ugly, public acts of mayhem by teens (flash mobs) and in virtually every case, the teens were unsupervisd, truant and/or had discipline issues at school. One judge was selected to preside over all of the trials. This judge pulled many of the convicted youths from their homes, citing poor parenting as a key reason for the delinquency and criminal behavior. Laws to literally hold parents accountable for their children will be better in the long run than locking up many teens after they have committed crimes.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | May 14, 2010 7:02 AM | Report abuse

Revenue raising for Dummies-

> Civil fines

> Hold other people responsible for am individuals acts - The "Deep Pockets" theory.

Only from a place like San Francisco or Pelosi's office does this type of madness come from.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | May 14, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

It is called Educational Neglect and there are too many parents who simply refuse to bring their kids to school. It is a health and safety issue. A child who misses 10% of the school year will not only suffer academically, they often are suffering forms of abuse. Keep them out of school to let the bruises fade because teachers are mandated reporters. Remember the Jacks case people?
There is so much data linking truancy to crime it isn’t funny. Look it up. Before you start complaining about the California law, do a little research.
Guess what folks, Educational Neglect is already a crime in DC (has been for years) and parents here can be locked up as well.

Posted by: eor11 | May 14, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

Hey, whatever it takes to get the little monsters under control before they turn into big monsters. There's no end of really crappy parents, and I'd be quite happy to see them have to deal with the consequences of their bad parenting before everyone else is forced to.

Posted by: Nymous | May 14, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

I think this is a great idea. Too many parents abdicate their responsibilities. If they need a wake-up call like this, provide it.
I would hope that a first offense would bring something short of a year in jail, but something that at least provided real pain and inconvenience.
Chronic truancy is worst for the kids involved. This measure is short of removing the kids from a bad environment, but is a large step toward trying to improve it.
I support California in this.

Posted by: LoveIB | May 14, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Good Luck enforcing this. Isn't the reason why we have child protection agencies is to protect children against this very thing? More than likely, if a child is missing school, there is another underlying issue at play. If a child can be put on a bus to school, but then exit the bus prior to arriving to school, how much control does a parent or the bus driver for that matter have over a juvenile delinquent. You get arrested for applying corporal punishment when you discipline your child. So what then??? In New York City at least there is a program where parents can take out a petition for unruly children and sign them over to the state or have officers police their activity while they remain in their parents care. But these programs have very little success in preventing kids from dropping out. Many young girls will have children deliberately just to become emancipated minors before age 18. What is a parent to do when all the chips are stacked against them?

Posted by: kiboo | May 14, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

onfifadee, they do mention the logic behind it. The DA who has political ambitions says if they don't go to school they'll eventually be on trial for homicide. three quarters of inmates are high school dropouts sounds impressive, but they're drop outs because they're the kind of people who don't want to go to school, or work. If I were planning to be a criminal, not sure how important that diploma would be in my mind. If this DA has political ambitions, it might be helped by not advancing absurd policies. Parents definitely have a responsibility, but how much can they really do? My dad died when I was young, and my mom certainly couldn't "make" me go to school. She had to make a living to support us. This law is absurd. And the burden of proof is extremely high. What a wasted of time and taxpayer money. bad idea.

Posted by: red2million | May 14, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

This problem is the direct result of our nanny state. The state has stepped in and inserted itself between student and child on many levels. Out of sight, out of mind...Many parents don't take an active role in the education of their children because we've made it easy for them to push the responsibility onto the schools.

I think hitting parents in the pocketbook would be very meaningful. If the parents are on public assistance, they should have part of their check witheld. If they are not, they should face a fine. People pay attention to money. California is broken because this state doesn't allow people think for themselves and doesn't promote personal responsibility; therefore, I doubt anything will come of this.

Posted by: sactown1 | May 14, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

There should be an exception for the students who are getting good grades despite not attending school--and there are a lot more of these than the schools want to admit.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 14, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Several ideas other than jail:

- Fines, that increase incrementally with
the number of truancies

- If parents do not have funds,court-ordered community service such as cleaning
painting school buildings that need it.

- Court-appointed classes on behavioral
interventions for parents; parents
would have to attend a minimum of 6-10
sessions and demonstrate knowedge of
how to successfully take responsibility
for child's behavior and to intervene
in areas of discipline - and it probably
is a bigger problem than just truancy
in the family.

- Mandated parent support groups for so
many months depending on severity of

- maybe all of the above

From my teaching experiences, heavy truancy problems always came along with other issues, thus the suggestions for classes and support groups; sustained truancy is a very serious issue as this article has pointed out - it warrants substantive action.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | May 15, 2010 12:41 AM | Report abuse

I don't know if jailing parents will do any good but once we put the educational spotlight where it belongs - on parents - then we might begin to see some real improvements.

Parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | May 15, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

This idea will be sure to affect low-income African American women disproportionately. And in that it makes perfect sense.

The U.S. has done such an excellent job of devastating African American families over the past half century by refusing to adopt policies that would have provided adequate employment opportunities for the men, and their sons, who had relocated to cities from the South to work in manufacturing jobs which then were evaporated. The normally intact families started to fall into ruin because so many men were forced into being chronically idle. They were cornered into participating in an underground economy. We followed up on that with the additional assault of creating ever-harsher penalties for non-violent drug crimes, and permanently branded the men as felons.

Let's congratulate ourselves! As soon as the civil rights movement was launched, we simultaneously set out to destroy African American families with a new ferocity. Michelle Alexander explains it all in her book, "The New Jim Crow."

So while African American families are in ruin and the remaining parents (mothers) and grandparents (grandmothers) trying to cope the best they can, what better way to destroy any remaining integrity than to now find clever ways to incarcerate the moms!

Incarceration: The U.S. method to solving everything.

Prisoners (per capita)
# 1 United States: 715 per 100,000 people
# 2 Russia: 584 per 100,000 people
# 3 Belarus: 554 per 100,000 people
= 113 Finland: 71 per 100,000 people

Posted by: pondoora | May 16, 2010 1:26 AM | Report abuse

So a single parent is working two jobs to keep food on the table and still rides herd on the kids--making them stay in after school and do their homework when they want to run wild with their friends. So one plays hooky (and where did that term come from, anyway?), the parent gets jailed, no one puts food on the table or supervises any of the kids, who wind up in a foster home that may or may not be any good. How is that an improvement?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 17, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

The American family is under siege by many negative forces. Loss of jobs, marital woes, drugs and alcohol abuse, lack of communication, spiritual disconnection, rising consumer prices for goods and services, a general sense of fear and hopelessness. OK. Sounds bleak huh? Somehow the education trilogy (School, Parent and Child) must be supported via new mechanisms: 1. Focus on Imagination – stimulate children to see beyond the immediate circumstance. 2. Inspire Parents – Give incentives to parents to desire a great legacy for their children. 3. Fertile Ground Centers – Schools must be the platform where parents, children, teachers, whole neighborhoods come together to explore ideas for positive change. Locking up parents crushes one third of the possibility for a positive outcome.

Posted by: knox3n20 | May 17, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Yes - jailing parents initially seems excessive. However, one of the rapidly growing trends in education involves tying teacher pay to student success. As a teacher, how can I be held accountable for a child's success if he/she is consistently truant? Parents must be held accountable for making sure that their children get to school. A school's environment, curriculum, class size, etc.... really doesn't matter if the kids don't show up.

In my school we have a perennial attendance problem that begins in kindergarten. In our district, it isn't that the parents are working and can't bring their kids to school. Nor is transportation the issue. Drug and alcohol abuse are. When the kids aren't at school, they are often at home with their drunk, stoned, blitzed parents. Many of them are exposed to far more drug, alcohol, physical abuse than they would be if they were at school. Some even live in meth labs and are exposed to the multitude of poisons involved in drug manufacturing and trade.

Yes - jailing parents isn't necessarily a good answer. But isn't allowing children to spend all their time in such a horrific environment even worse? And doesn't that do more to continue the cycle of drug/alcohol abuse?

Posted by: mtnmeyer2 | May 17, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

If jailing parents is the answer, when it clearly cannot be, then make room within the incarceration system for their even more unsupervised children that will eventually become adults.

Just think how upset little Johnnie or Susie will be in class while his mom or dad are in jail.

How well will he/she behave in class? How focus will he/she be?

How much will they actually learn or absorb?

How much time will their teacher spend dealing with emotions of a child whose parent are in jail?

How will this child effect other students within the classroom?

I thought common sense was free of charge.

More focus seeking coordination and assistance toward family/student oriented intervention services via community support organizations such as churches, local state/federal social services, mentor programs, etc.

The spotlight should be on ending the cycle of individuals who are too young, not financially ready or qualified to become parents....I.E. STUDENTS

Posted by: TwoSons | May 17, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

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