Parents Jailed for Children's Truancy

December 10, 1999 12:00 am

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DETROIT – Parents whose children habitually skip school have always worried about their children’s education and future. But now, in some states, they also have something else to worry about: going to jail.

In what is part of a trend to punish parents for their children’s wrongdoings, the Associated Press reported, several states are imposing harsh penalties on parents whose children are truant. Most states have truancy laws but historically have not enforced them.

In Brewster, Alabama, the AP reported, 10 parents were indicted in May on charges of not keeping their children in school or out of trouble. One of the parents, who pleaded guilty, served 60 days in jail. Parents have also been jailed for their children’s truancy in Benton, Tennessee and Twin Falls, Idaho.

In Michigan, state lawmakers have proposed a $500 penalty and up to 50 hours of required community service for parents whose children are frequently absent from school. A state law punishing parents with 90 days in jail has been on the books for at least 20 years but has rarely been enforced. Officials in Detroit say approximately 63,000 of the district’s 175,000 students missed more than a month of classes last school year.

“I think what [jailing parents] does is it puts importance, value on how important education is in this country,” said Kathy Christie of the Education Commission of the States, which works with state policy makers.

Some parents agreed and said the punishments were appropriate.

But others saw them as dangerous and ineffective. Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, called the approach an “easy out.” She commented, “The problem here is motivating children, and I don’t believe throwing their parents in jail will accomplish that.”

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