California Parents Could Be Jailed If Children Miss School

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Color Lines is reporting on a new law that would allow the state to prosecute parents who’s children skip school in California.

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Last Thursday California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 1317, a new statewide anti-truancy bill that officials hope will curb chronic absenteeism in elementary and middle school students. The new law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2011, and allow state officials to prosecute parents when their kids don’t show up to school.

The initiative was pushed by California attorney general hopeful Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party who “Today” show host Matt Lauer dubbed “the female Obama.” Harris has smartly tied crime rates with dropout rates; the correlation between kids’ educational achievement and the rate of their criminal convictions is direct. And yet the solutions are alarmingly punitive.

Parents whose kids miss any more than 10 percent of their classes can be charged with a misdemeanor and slammed with a $2,000 fine or a yearlong jail sentence if, after being offered state support and counseling, their kids still fail to improve their attendance. Before SB 1317, parents could be prosecuted under a child endangerment statute. Now kids’ absenteeism has become a crime all its own. The state labels a student as truant if they have more than three unexcused absences in one school year on their record.

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