Truant Child Means Parents Go To Jail

Under a new law working its way through the California legislature this month, parents of K-8 children could go to jail if their kids are chronically absent from school.

SB1317 already sailed through the California Senate with little difficulty. The bill details how the parents of a K-8 child truant 10 percent or more of the school year could be jailed for up to one year and fined $2,000 if they ignore repeated warnings.

The Problem of Truancy

Measures already exist in parts of California, as they do in other states, to deal with truancy. In the Oakland school district, more than 5,000 children in kindergarten through eighth grade missed at least five full days of school without an excused absence during the past school year. About 2,000 missed 10 days or more, and some of their parents were sent to the truancy court in Alameda County and charged with an infraction.

Senate Bill 1317 jumps this up a notch by making truancy a misdemeanor, at least for the parents of children who have missed 10 percent of the school year. This is not unique to California; many states are moving in this direction, and both Florida and Texas already have similar laws in place. Several months ago, I wrote here about the school board in Nutley, New Jersey, which was planning to adopt a policy that would charge parents for detention, which they estimate costs the district $10,000 a year in overtime and maintenance fees.

Parents in Jail a Good Solution?

But is jail for their parents the right solution for truant children? The legislation was drafted by Kamala Harris, district attorney for San Francisco and also candidate for California attorney general. Here’s what she has to say:

“I think that everyone realized that for too long, issues that affect children were seen as small issues – maybe because children are small- instead of taking these on as big issues,” Harris said recently. “You know who that chronically truant 6-year-old is going to be? The ‘menace to society’ that everyone will be knocking on our door about, asking me to prosecute.”

Other experts disagree. Adrian Kirk, who directs the Oakland school district office dealing with truant children and their families, believes the bill is too punitive. Sending your child to school is such a basic thing, he said. If a parent is not doing so, they must have serious problems – problems that the threat of punishment is not necessarily going to solve.

Time will tell if punishing parents in this way will cut down on school truancy rates. Meanwhile, the debate is open: is this a great bill that is long overdue, or an example of government intervention that can only make the truancy problem worse?

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Diane C.
Diane C.8 years ago

I started reading this to find help with my son. He has a lot of trouble getting up for school and at times is actually ill. He has missed a lot school and an attendance officer is now getting involved. I have emailed the school and spoke with his counselor and others to express my concern for my son; from the start. I have taken away the TV, phone, computer and most everything else, so he will go to bed at night and be able to get up for school. Nothing seems to work. I have been threatened that I will go to Jail if my son does not go to school. I have another child that goes every day, which I must care for. I have told my son 14 that he needs to get up and make an effort. I told him that this very serious, he said I just can't help; that I don't feel good in the morning. It is not just school it is most activities. I scheduled an appointment for him for counseling, he refused to go. He said he was fine. I am lost as a mother; I don’t know what else to do? I know I am good mother and I don’t need those who want to say different to respond; if you have good advice please I am all ears.

Lika S.
Lika P8 years ago

I think it's a sticky situation. While some kids will skip out midday, others are real absences. My son used to catch every virus that came along in school. Most often than not, he'd either get the chronic drippy nose or the vomiting. I don't know how many times I was told NOT to send him when he is sick like that, so I started keeping him home.

Well, of course the pediatrician wants to wait until the vomiting lasts 3 days before making an ill child appointment. My son hates pedialyte and gatorade. I have a remedy for upset tummies, and well, too many preservatives will get him too. If the school serves a high MSG food/snack, he surely vomits.

Yet because of me keeping him home as well as them calling me to take him home, the school ends up telling me that I either need a Dr. excuse or I'll be sent a write up about my son's truancy. So, what, I send him to school sick, they TELL me to bring him home and not send him while sick, and now it's MY fault he's truant? I'm following school orders!

So, if anything, make sure that the school is understanding why the child isn't there. If the parent calls for a valid reason or the school sends the child home, that should NOT count against truancy policy. On the other hand, if the child is misbehaving, it will force the parents to do something. If the parents can't get a grip, maybe send the child to juvie or something.

Lawrence E.
Lawrence H E8 years ago

I am a teacher, principal, and grandparent who has watched my grandchild with diabetes be able to dictate to her mother when she is willing to go to school and what she will accomplish. No amount of talking on my part has dissuaded this mother from keeping her from home when she does not want to go. As sad as it would make me, the mother going to jail in order to improve the child's attendance would be a blessing.

I have watched over the years many children miss 25-60 days of school with no apparent health issues involved with these absences. Then these attendance figures are realeased through the State issued report card on the school and school funding is put at risk at the polls. It is high time that parents are made to assume their responsibility of the schooling of their children. It is the states responsibility to educate the child when the parents get them to school. Maybe if a few parents lost their freedom and possibly their child to raise the schools might have a chance with making better educated citizens of these children. There is a reason that 85% of children born into poverty die in poverty and that their life span is lower than the rest of society. This cavalier attitude about education is a part of that statistic.

Hon Cheung
Hon Cheung8 years ago


Shelby S.
Shelby S.8 years ago

Some kids will want that to happen, so they'll purposely ditch school to have the house to themselves. They don't care. It won't impact kids any, except for the ones who actually care about their parents (which isn't often, for many reasons; parent yells too much, parent thinks an iron fist is the way, etc.)

Ha. Have fun with that. And pft, only five days of unexcused absence will make the parents go to jail? I think fifteen days seem more realistic. And besides, that's wasting more of our tax money. I can't believe jail has become the one solution for everything. The government should just pay for jail by themselves instead of adding it to our yearly tax bill. Seriously, this country is getting run by idiots. Not just the country's government, but the states are going overboard as well. It's really dumb that they keep looking for excuses to enforce a new law just because all the laws needing to be enforced already have been. "Hey, let's throw in this one just for kicks! Now the parents HAVE to attend court when their child accidentally drops their eating utensil."

Guh! I wanna go live on another planet with more reasonable people >:(

Alyx Parr
A P8 years ago

So the broke state of California is going to support the parents that are in jail? Let us say, one parent is not fit to be a parent, or not alive anymore, the one parent goes to jail, what happens to the child? Mmm....I do not think they thought this through.

Michael M.
Michael M8 years ago

Could the US possibly get any more f@@### - up? I doubt it. A year in jail ?

Jane L.
Jane L8 years ago

I don't think jail time is an appropriate consequence for parents who don't send their children to school. What if u're a single parent and u end up being sent to jail? What happens to the child? Will he or she be left out on the street like so many are already? This is just not helpful to the situation at all; in fact, it could backfire!

Kathy Javens
Kathy Javens8 years ago

Although it is hard to watch your children 24/7, the proper upbringing begins at home with the parents. They must do as much as possible to instill the proper values of life and education into their children. I don`t think jail time is the answer, and to be quite honest,I cannot give an answer. Just love your children and pray they do the right thing.

Simon D.
Simon D.8 years ago

I want to say that this sounds like a typical loony right wing ploy that will be a lazy quick fix, using deterrence as weapon, rather than taking a more long term strategy, that perhaps would cost a little more money. Unfortunately, here in the UK, this tactic has already been in operation since 2002, when it was in fact the Labour Party, backed by the Conservatives, that felt that they could decrease the truancy level by a third. I bet you're all dying to ask, how much did they actually reduce it by in the end? Hmm...well, the truancy figure actually went up by a third!

The then education secretary who helped to bring this jailing policy about, has now admitted that she feels it wasn't a good idea, and she says she is no longer at ease with the whole process. Many education experts now say that incarcerating parents has had no effect at all.

I think a lesson needs to be learned from this, and more thought needs to be applied. It's a social problem, and one that needs a more gentle approach. Maybe a system of incentives and rewards, rather than punishment could be adopted, for both the parent and child, together with counselling, which could be tailored towards whatever is at the root of the problem within the family unit, which in turn is manifesting itself in the form of, amongst other problems, truancy. I also don't think that the politicians should ignore the more widespread issues of poverty, unemployment, and how they affect families and their ability to function