Should parents go to jail when kids miss too much school?

Florida's Palm Beach County is cracking down on truancy by punishing parents, and it's hardly the first place in the nation to do so

A growing number of school districts are tired of continuous school absences, and are looking to punish the parents with jail time.
(Image credit: Naho Yoshizawa/Aflo/Corbis)

A Florida county is holding an unusual threat over parents' heads: If your kids miss too much school — specifically, more than 15 days over a 3-month period — you could go to jail. And Palm Beach County isn't the first in the nation to resort to jailing parents to crack down on truancy. Four key questions:

What's going on?

Florida's Palm Beach County has created a new court specifically focused on truancy cases. While Florida has long had a law that states that parents can face up to two months of jail time if their child (aged 6 to 16) has more than 15 unexcused absences in three months, there was no infrastructure to enforce it — until now. Schools lacked the personnel to bring the cases to court, and prosecutors were more focused on violent crimes. The new truancy court is currently in a trial period, targeting kids from kindergarten to third grade.

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How big of a problem is truancy in Palm Beach?

It's a significant issue. In in the 2009-2010 school year, 6.6 percent of the county's 198,351 students racked up 21 or more unexcused absences.

Is Florida the only state with such a law?

No. Earlier this year, nearly a dozen parents in Baltimore City were sent to prison for their kids' truancy. In Orange County, Calif., at least five parents have gone to jail since a tough anti-truancy law went into effect earlier this year. Parents in Alabama, Texas, and North California have also been sent to the slammer for failing to ensure their kids attended classes.

Is this the right way to deal with truancy?

Not everyone thinks so. This "seems extreme and maybe even counterproductive," says Amy Reiter at The Stir. "If the parent is in jail, how will she then help get her kid to school?" Teens especially need to learn to take responsibility for their own actions, not have their parents pay for their crimes. Earlier this year, the NAACP filed suit against a school district in Pennsylvania that had fined a woman $8,000 over her kids' truancy. The organization argued that the kids had stopped going to school because they were being bullied and harassed.

Sources: Baltimore Sun, The Stir, Sun Sentinel, Yahoo

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