By Adam Denison
School children who repeatedly skip school may not be the only ones in trouble if new legislation holding parents responsible for truancy becomes law.
If legislation proposed by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, is passed, parents who fail to send their children to school or provide alternate means of education will be charged with a class B misdemeanor. Current law mandates that parents whose children miss school five times be notified with a letter, which they must simply reply to.
Under the current law children are considered truant, or absent without permission, after eight absences. Under the new bill, a student would be considered a “habitual truant” if he or she was absent or tardy 10 times or more during the school year.
The bill has received a favorable recommendation from the House Education Committee as well as the support of the Utah PTA, Utah School Boards Association and Utah Superintendents Association. Dean Nielsen, principal at Rock Canyon Elementary School in Provo, is in favor of the proposed legislation. The main thing, he said, is doing what is best for the students.
Dean Nielson is the principal at Rock Canyon Elementary in Provo, and is in favor of this type of legislation. The only way for students to get the full benefits of an education is to attend school, he said.
“If you want the fruits you have got to have the roots,” he said.
Nielson said he believes holding the parents responsible for the absences or tardiness of their child is good because the failure of younger students to attend school is generally the fault of the parents. As students advance to middle and high school the responsibility to attend school falls more on the students than the parents.
Carmen Snow, president of the Utah PTA, is also supportive of the new legislation. One big problem she has seen in Utah is parents keeping their children home to watch their younger siblings so the parents can go to work. This is especially a problem for students enrolled in kindergarten through the sixth grade, she said.
The new legislation would require the parents to not only respond to notices from school officials, but to cooperate with them as well, Snow said. At Rock Canyon Elementary parents of students with repeated absences are required to call the school and report why their students have failed to attend.
Law mandates that school districts monitor the attendance of students. All children ages 6 to 18 are required by law to attend some type of school. Failure to do so may result in the parents and child being sent to truancy school, an evening class in which they are informed of laws concerning school attendance policies. If after truancy school there is still a problem, the parents and child are sent to a truancy court in which they are required to tell a judge why the student has not been attending school. If the judge deems the family to be dysfunctional, the child may be removed from the home.
Nielsen said parents are generally very willing to cooperate and usually have valid reasons for why their children have not been at school.