Some states cracking down on truants
Unexcused absences from school is not a new trend. Ditching or playing hooky is an age-old problem that’s generated little buzz in most communities. However, a recent spike in non-attendance in both grade school and high school has gotten the attention of a few state legislatures.
In the Oakland School District in California, 5,000 students between kindergarten and the eighth grade missed 5 days during the 2008-2009 school year. Another 2,000 students missed 10 days or more. To address the problem, legislation is pending that will criminalize truancy. California Senate Bill 1317, if passed, will classify truancy as a misdemeanor with penalties including jail time and fines for parents. Florida and Texas have similar laws already in place.
Some states classify chronic truancy as educational neglect by the parents of the children. Under specific child protection laws the state may step in and bring the matter before a judge. When the court has the parents in court and issues orders requiring them to do everything in their power to get their kids to school, the court can use its contempt powers when they fail to comply. This may result in a finding of contempt and possible jail time.
In an Arizona case a few years back, the court set a review of its orders in a truancy case. The hearing was scheduled for the third week of December at the end of the first semester. Since the parents didn’t follow through as ordered, they were found in contempt of court and sent to jail for the next two weeks. Their children were placed in foster care over the holiday break.
Most truancy violations won’t have such drastic endings. Parents will be given an opportunity to correct the problem and, with a deferred judgment or prosecution, avoid a criminal record. Some parents may be ordered to attend parenting classes or substance abuse treatment when appropriate.
New York City has been battling truancy for many years. In 2012, a new program called “It’s 9:00 a.m.: Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?” was begun. It’s an effort to involve parents in their children’s education and future. Statistics have shown that the graduation rate of students who miss more than 20 days a school-year diminishes.
In a September, 2012 study by the Getting Schooled non-profit organization, 42% of the students surveyed reported that their parents never or rarely knew when they skipped school. The number one reason for their missing school was that it’s boring, and 65% reported hanging out with friends as the activity of choice when skipping (“Skipping to Nowhere” study).