Two school board members in Nutley, NJ, have come up with an unusual way to make money for their school district: fine parents whose children are assigned detention. The board members, Steven Rogers and Walter Sautter, say they are hoping to adopt a policy by next school year that would charge parents for detention, which they estimate costs the district $10,000 a year in overtime and maintenance fees.
It may not seem like a lot of money, but it adds up over time,” Rogers said. “Parents need to step up to the plate and to be held responsible and accountable for their children’s habitual actions.”
During a recent board meeting, Rogers, who also works as a police officer in town, and Sautter, a former science teacher at Nutley High School, outlined their proposal to fine parents whose children are consistently sent to after-school detention. They have not yet determined the size of the fines or how to define a student who is habitually in detention. The school board’s attorney is currently considering whether such a proposal is even legal.
Let’s imagine the scenario at the monthly faculty meeting, as the principal announces that the school is short of cash, so could each teacher please assign at least one detention this week? And how would the payment work? A credit card machine in each detention hall? Parents could prepay, making it easy to deduct the cost of each detention
Charging mom and dad for their kid’s truancy is not a new idea. In Philadelphia, the City Council voted in March to charge parents $25 if their child was found wandering around the city during school hours. Truancy courtrooms in some parts of California and Texas issue citations with fines of up to $500; in 2008, Fort Worth Independent School District had 1,059 truancy court cases, with 433 involving fines. And hundreds of parents in England have been stuck with a fine of £50 ($75) when their child skips school.
But charging parents for detention? First of all, detention should not be about sitting in a room, doing nothing, waiting for the bell to ring. Students learn nothing from this. Wherever possible, detention should be tied to the offense; so if it’s graffiti, for example, the child should be held accountable for cleaning up. If a teacher assigns detention for rudeness, disrespectful behavior, or repeated tardiness, why not have students do something to contribute positively to the school? Giving them a purpose to be in detention and having them do something might encourage them to think twice before they commit the same infraction that got them there in the first place.
Alternatively, have the student put in some community service hours. Kids need to take responsibility for their actions. Several years ago, I experienced a creative solution to the problem of tardiness at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA; rather than being assigned detention for repeated tardies, students were required to have a parent accompany them to each class throughout one school day. This effectively took care of the problem!
This brings us to the bigger question: Who is to blame for a child’s bad (or good) behavior at school? Are parents or teachers responsible? Most people would agree that it’s a shared responsibility: the job of parents is to give their children the basics of respectful behavior, and the job of teachers is to establish classroom control by setting and enforcing clear expectations for student behavior.
So maybe parents who don’t keep their end of the bargain, parents with unruly and uncooperative children, should be charged for the detention of their children. Perhaps such a financial incentive would encourage parents to spend more time with their children and enforce some discipline, teach their kids to respect educators and honor class time. And maybe fining parents could be a way to get them to care about the behavior of their child.
The Nutley Board of Education has heard residents argue both sides of the issue. Lisa Manderichio, a local business owner with no children in the district, said she welcomes the rule as a cost-preventive measure: “The taxes in Nutley are high enough. I really think that the parents should be responsible for their children,” she declared. What do you think? Should parents pay for detention? Is community service appropriate punishment? Add your comments here to let us know!