Should parents be held criminally responsible if their kids miss school? | The Tylt

Should parents be held criminally responsible if their kids miss school?

Two Democratic presidential candidates are being criticized for truancy policies they pushed while they were top state prosecutors. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar both pushed policies calling for steep fines and potential jail time for parents whose children were habitually absent from school. Harris and Klobuchar are standing by their policies, saying they helped increase attendance numbers and were not used punitively. Activists say punishing parents is incredibly hurtful to families and students. What do you think?

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Harris pushed the policy hard, testing it in San Francisco before expanding it to other parts of California. In a 2009 op-ed, Harris told the story of a student named Michael, who she claimed went from missing 80 days of kindergarten to excelling in school after his family went through the truancy court program. 

Combatting truancy is a smart approach to crime prevention. Every fall I send out letters to parents of all SFUSD students informing them that truancy is against the law. During the school year, prosecutors from my office hold mediations with parents and truant students to reinforce this message and urge them to get help to improve their children's attendance. In most cases, attendance improves.
When it does not, my office prosecutes parents in a specialized truancy court we created that combines close court monitoring with tailored family services. To date, I have prosecuted 20 parents of young children for truancy. The penalty for truancy charged as a misdemeanor is a fine of up to $2,500 or up to a year of jail. Our groundbreaking strategy has worked. After Michael's parents did not respond to repeated pleas from the school district to get him in class, my investigators served his parents with criminal complaints. His parents appeared in court and agreed to work to get needed services and get Michael back in school. Michael missed only three days the following school year. He got extra attention from teachers to get on track and one parent has even become a school volunteer.
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Activists, however, dispute Harris' characterization of the program. While Harris talks about scaring parents straight and providing them with resources, other parents felt they were being punished with no consideration for circumstances outside their control. HuffPost wrote the story of Cheree Peoples, a California mother who was taken into custody after her daughter Shayla missed too many days of school. 

On the morning Peoples was arrested, police arrested five other parents — including several in front of waiting news crews — as part of what one assistant district attorney painted as an effort to prevent children from “being criminals or joining a gang.” The district attorney described Peoples’ conduct in unsparing terms, telling local news outlets she had ignored the school’s numerous requests for meetings and multiple warnings that Shayla was truant.
“The defendant was offered counseling and parenting classes,” read a press release from the district attorney’s office. “The student was provided the opportunity for a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, a mentor at school [and] monthly meetings with law enforcement officers.” Peoples never responded to those offers, it claimed. 
...Shayla frequently missed school because she was in too much pain to leave the house or was hospitalized for long-term care. Her school was aware of these circumstances; it had records on file from the regional children’s hospital explaining that Shayla’s condition would necessitate unpredictable absences and special educational accommodations. Peoples and the school had worked together to set up some of those accommodations, which are required under federal disability law. At the time of her arrest, Peoples claims she was fighting with the school to get it to agree to additional accommodations under an Individualized Education Plan, which she said the school had rejected.
“This is a young woman who spends a lot of her life in the hospital,” Peoples said. “How is it that she’s giving off the impression of being a gang member? … Why are they coming after me?”
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Klobuchar championed similar laws in Minnesota during her time as a prosecutor. According to the Daily Beast, while many activists are now criticizing the program, Klobuchar's camp stands by her strategies.

As Hennepin County Attorney, Klobuchar made it a priority to use the power of her office to tackle chronic school absence, or truancy, a perennial problem for schools, especially those in low-income, predominantly minority schools in cities like Minneapolis.
Even though truancy is not a crime in Minnesota, Klobuchar frequently called truancy a “gateway to crime” or even “the kindergarten of crime;” in a 2004 op-ed, she urged readers to call the police if they saw truant children out during the day.
...A campaign spokesperson defended Klobuchar’s record on the issue. “As Hennepin County Attorney, Senator Klobuchar was committed to helping students stay in school, which is why she developed and expanded programs and services to support kids and families and prevent truancy. Her truancy initiatives were never focused on punishing students or parents–they were instead focused on prevention, early intervention and support services to help families and school officials develop strategies to keep individual kids in schools on a case-by-case basis."
#NoPrisonForParents

Activists argue that running families through the criminal justice system does not empower them to fix their existing situations. Rather, after coming into contact with truancy courts, they are far worse off. Per Vox

“You’re essentially threatening people with prison when there’s underlying poverty issues that are potentially preventing them from having their kids show up to school on time,” Jyoti Nanda, who runs runs a youth and justice clinic at UCLA, told me. “It’s using a crime lens to address what’s really a public health issue.”
With Harris’s anti-truancy program, there’s a threat that a parent will be fined or jailed. That could hurt the family financially, or take a parent out of a child’s home. That could also lead to a criminal record, which could hurt the parents further in, say, finding a job. These kinds of collateral consequences could actually hurt the kids the program intends to help if it inhibits parents’ ability to support their children and get them to school.
As one example: How is a mom going to drive her sons to school if she’s in jail, or if she can’t afford transportation because she’s facing hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines?
FINAL RESULTS
Politics
Should parents be held criminally responsible if their kids miss school?
#PunishTruantParents
A festive crown for the winner
#NoPrisonForParents