Truancy laws, which were on the books in 24 states and the District of Columbia in 2018, received renewed scrutiny on Wednesday when California Democrat Sen. Kamala Harris expressed regrets that she promoted the law in her state.
These measures, which are supposed to address chronic unexcused school absenteeism, have sent parents to prison and pushed Black kids into the school-to-prison pipeline.
The laws tend disproportionately to harm the poor and minorities. In Texas, 20 percent of all court referrals in the 2013 – 14 school year were issued to Black students, even though they comprised just 13 percent of the state’s student population, according to a 2015 report from San Antonio Current.
Harris, the former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, made combating truancy a signature issue before she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Now that she’s running for U.S. president in 2020, her advocacy of California’s truancy laws threatens to harm her political aspirations.
“My regret is that I have now heard stories where in some jurisdictions, DAs have now criminalized the parents,” Harris said Wednesday in an interview with “Pod Save America,” the Huffington Post reported. “And I regret that that has happened and the thought that anything that I did could have led to that.”
Harris championed a truancy law in California after she successfully reduced truancy in San Francisco as district attorney. The law imposed fines and jail sentences on students and parents.
In March, the Huffington Post highlighted the case of an Orange County African-American mother who was prosecuted under the 2011 law. The Orange County district attorney was proud of the arrest, which the prosecutor said was part of a gang prevention program. However, the woman’s daughter was actually out of school because of an illness.
While many people are excited about Harris’ presidential run, there are questions about her history as it relates to criminal justice.
A Medium.com article from June ripped into Harris, “Kamala Harris’ career was built on both the slave labor of black and brown prisoners and also the pettiness of truancy laws that separated poor and mostly black mothers from their children. Harris was so proud of her history with taking mothers from their children that she used it as her signature campaign agenda while running for AG.”