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Truancy Law Unfairly Punishes Minorities and Poor

URBAN PERSPECTIVE - Parents and community leaders are rallying to repeal SB 1317, California’s anti-truancy law. They are claiming that this law is unfair to minorities and the poor.

SB 1317 was designed to reduce persistent absenteeism in elementary and middle school students with the hope of preventing drop outs. It also prosecutes parents when their children don’t attend school.

Parents whose children miss more than 10 percent of schooldays can be charged with a misdemeanor and punished with a fine up to $2,000 or imprisonment in County jail up to 1 year.

SB 1317 has been labeled the smart bill with good intentions and unintended consequences.

Law enforcement statewide has enacted sweeps on truant students. Their enforcement of the truancy laws has disproportionately targeted students of color and forced many cash strapped parents into courts to pay fines averaging up to $250.

Besides the sweeps, advocates who want the law repealed are saying this punitive law doesn’t address the root causes of truancy; and penalizes parents and youth with quality of life issues that prevent them from attending school.

For example, clean or tattered clothing, hygiene, and hunger prevent economically challenged students from attending school to avoid teasing; the lack of school transportation due to the budget is a financial challenge for poor and low-income parents whose children attend neighborhood schools that are within a three to five mile radius; and unstable housing makes it difficult to prioritize school over a permanent living situation.

Furthermore, repeal advocates argue that this law places an unforeseeable burden on systems that are presently in turmoil such as the Department of Children and Family Services if truant students are removed from their home and separated from their biological parents for truancy violations.

The reality is economically disadvantaged parents cannot afford the price tag of hiring a lawyer to defend against the truancy law if school districts and law enforcement chose to enforce it. It is better to solve the source of the absenteeism than to penalize parents for problems beyond their control.

(Janet Denise Kelly offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at jdkellyenterprises.org ) –cw

Tags: minorities, poor, truancy, truancy law, SB 1317, Family Services, dropouts, education, schools

Vol 9 Issue 86
Pub: Oct 28, 2011