Elizabeth: Should truancy = fines and jail time?
When it came time to decide on my daughter’s schooling, I struggled. I looked at all the options available to me – our local public school, private schools, and homeschooling. At the time, none of them seemed good. However, after much deliberation, research, and a lot of prayer, I decided to homeschool.
Homeschooling was not the easy choice — in fact, the thought of it was frankly terrifying. Once I got into it, it seemed at times it was hard for my daughter to pay attention to me long enough just to get through her ABC’s. But we stuck with it.
As it turns out, my choice to homeschool my daughter, and just this year my son, was definitely the right choice. Yep, there are still days when I want to pull my hair out and I question my sanity in choosing to homeschool, but my kids are thriving.
One important benefit to homeschooling is that I have the freedom to choose what to teach, when to teach, and where to teach my children. I am currently on a three week trip to Washington DC and upstate New York to visit relatives and grandparents – a trip that would have never been possible if my children were in traditional school. Thanks to homeschooling, school comes with us.
However, most parents aren’t quite as lucky as my husband and me. They’re so restricted by school policies and attendance requirements that they and children are being punished for missing even a few days of school.
In a recent article published by The Atlantic – Annette Fuentes delves into the scary and sometimes absurd world of school truancy, detailing the case of a poverty stricken girl from Hildago, Texas who was on track to graduate from school until the truancy court came after her for past fines:
Elizabeth Diaz, was sentenced to jail for 18 days because she couldn’t pay $1,600 in fines assessed when she was 14 years old. Diaz owed her school absences to chronic illnesses when she was younger–fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder.
She was on track to graduate high school until she was jailed. When her school learned of her arrest, it withdrew her enrollment, and she missed critical state exams.
Another shocking instance of a truancy court overstepping it’s purpose came earlier this year when an honor student from Houston, Texas, was jailed due to excessive tardiness and absences. According to KHOU in Houston:
A judge threw Diane Tran, a 17-year-old 11th grade honor student from Willis High School, in jail after she missed school again. Tran said she works a full-time job, a part-time job and takes advanced placement and dual credit college level courses. She said she is often too exhausted to wake up in time for school. Sometimes she misses the entire day, she said. Sometimes she arrives after attendance has been taken. The judge ordered Tran to spend 24 hours in jail and pay a $100 fine.
Students aren’t the only one suffering from a ridiculous application of rules. Parents, many of them low income, are being forced to pay exorbitant fines for their children being absent or tardy. In a single Dallas truancy courtroom - the truancy fines collected in 2011 totaled $1.8 million! That’s in one courtroom alone!
Many of these fines are for so-called excused absences — everything from doctors appointments to therapy sessions. One upset mom wrote on Parenting.com about her experience:
My first grade daughter’s excused absences totaled 27, the January letter reported. The letter warned that any more absences and we’d be referred to a truancy officer. It’s a “truancy crackdown” meant to improve test scores, school funding, and graduation rates. For us, it felt like harassment. My daughter had severe anxiety which created legitimate sicknesses in her body, with puke and everything. But, more than that, she missed school to see a therapist once a week. Since anxiety affected her learning and her health, therapy was our biggest priority – so we let her miss school. It was the only appointment time available at the time.
I understand that school attendance needs to be a priority but, you have to wonder, is it a priority to help children, or to make money for the local courts and to harass parents?