Local: Education

D.C. bill to crack down on truants' parents faces opposition

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Local,DC,Education,Eric P. Newcomer

A public hearing Tuesday on a D.C. Council bill that would allow the city to lock up the parents of the city's worst truants will feature opposition from child advocacy groups and parents who see the bill as well-intentioned but flawed.

To avoid potential jail time, the bill would allow parents to indicate that they were unable to get their children to attend school, allowing the District to appoint government monitors to step in and try to get students to go to classes.

The bill would expand existing law to include children between 5 and 17 years old. Current law already allows the District to fine parents up to $500 and to jail them for two days if their children miss two days of school.

Councilman David Catania, who is a chief sponsor of the bill, said that he was not aware of any incarcerations based on the current law.

The proposal under discussion Tuesday would amend current law and give the city a better ability to enforce it, Catania said.

The new proposal -- which would set at 20 the number of unexcused absences in a year before the state can take legal action -- will likely draw criticism Tuesday from child advocates.

Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children's Law Center, said she plans to propose exceptions to the law during her testimony on Tuesday.

"A lot of kids have been failed by the school system and that's why they're not going to the school," she said, citing undiagnosed mental illness as one of many explanations. "Kids are truant for a really wide variety of reasons."

Before sending parents to jail, courts could require first-time offenders to attend parenting classes or carry out community service at their child's school, according to the bill.

Marc Smith, a parent at Capitol Hill Cluster School who is testifying on Tuesday, said he has major concerns about the bill, calling it "well-intentioned but very flawed." In particular, he is worried about forcing delinquent parents to do community service in schools.

"A school isn't exactly the place where you want someone serving a court-ordered sanction," he said.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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