Leila and Frank Pate returned from an extended Christmas vacation in Italy to a court summons. They’d prepared for the travails of travel with young children. But the Frisco couple didn’t envision it leading to a misdemeanor charge and a label of criminal negligence.Anybody who thinks those kids didn't learn more traveling in Italy than they would have spending that time in school is a fool and a philistine.
“We’re criminals because we took a vacation to see family,” said Leila Pate, who wanted her second-grader and kindergartner to visit ailing relatives in the farthest stretches of southern Italy.
She informed the school district about the trip and packed a bag of class work. The kids practiced their Italian. They received approval for two of the 10 planned absences.
The summons came before the jet lag ended.
The district said the children’s attendance reports showed an unacceptable number of days missed. State law requires schools to prosecute when students skip or arrive late 10 or more days within a six-month period or three or more days within a month.
“We’re looking at [the order] and going, ‘This is just absolutely bonkers,’” said Frank Pate, who runs several businesses with his wife. “This is about money for them.”
Meyers notes that the county and school districts split and $80 fee for each truancy charge, plus "Districts have extra incentive to act diligently because they receive funding based on student attendance." The only loophole to avoid this "crime": Some parents actually withdraw the student from school before such trips then re-enroll them when they return to avoid criminal charges.
It's absurd that the law equates kids playing hooky from schools with their parents taking them on a planned family trip, criminalizing both. A bill passed this session allowing the fee to be waived if it would cause the family economic hardship, but another much-needed fix, at a minimum, would be to accommodate parents who choose to take their kids out of school for short stints because of family travel plans, deaths in the family and other contingencies based on the parents' decisions as opposed to youth skipping school on their own. That's an absurd and pointless story, reinforcing my sense that for school districts this law is more about the money than it is ensuring kids get a good education.
See related Grits posts:
- Whitmire: 'Ticketing students at school teaches the wrong lesson'
- Jailing parents for student truancy?
- ACLUTX on truancy, youth rights
- Spanking for truancy? On the limits of corporal punishment in juvie corrections
- Dropouts and crime: Dallas using GPS in pilot truancy program
- Constable pursues truancy make-work to justify staff increase