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MO Case Tests Jailing Parents If Students Miss School 'Regularly'

Missouri parents can be jailed if their children don’t attend school regularly. The problem, according to a Missouri Supreme Court filing: “Nobody has a clue what ‘regularly’ means.” Two mothers each have a child who missed 15 days at Lebanon R-III School District in the 2021-22 school year. The mothers called in to explain some of the absences—ear infection, bad cough, a doctor’s appointment an hour away—but both were referred to prosecutors and sentenced to jail. Officials of the southwestern Missouri school district of 4,500 students said they should maintain an attendance rate of at least 90%, an expectation in school handbooks. When students don’t, their parents are contacted through letters, phone calls and in-person visits, and referred to prosecutors if attendance doesn’t improve.

“School attendance is crucial for a student’s academic, social and personal development,” said Jacy Overstreet, a school spokeswoman. No state law says students must attend 90% of the time. Missouri’s statute requires “regular” attendance, a standard the mothers’ lawyers said is unconstitutionally vague and gives school officials and other local authorities wide discretion to choose which parents to charge. Tamarae LaRue, 32, was jailed for 15 days. Her four boys had because of COVID, car trouble and other issues. Between the start of 2018 and June 2023, nearly 600 charges were filed for violations of Missouri’s compulsory-education law. resulted in guilty pleas or dismissals. More than 40 states have a truancy statute that penalizes parents or students for chronic absenteeism, through penalties that can include fines, jail time, taking driver’s licenses or referrals to child-welfare agencies.

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