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Parents of Chronically Absent Students Are Fined, Prosecuted

A kindergartner racked up 14 absences in five months, half of them without explanation, according to his Missouri school district, which steered the case to prosecutors. His mother, Tamarae LaRue, was convicted of violating the state’s compulsory attendance law, a verdict the state Supreme Court upheld. The episode sent LaRue to jail for 15 days, her case showing some of the more punitive stakes as chronic student absenteeism remains at near-record highs and many areas seek to combat the problem, the Washington Post reports. “We see a lot of states that have policies where parents can be sanctioned for truancy,” said Nina Salomon of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “They can end up in jail. They can have a significant number of fines or fees associated with a truancy petition. There are a lot of different approaches across the country.” More than 14.7 million students were considered “chronically absent” in 2021-2022, 80 percent higher than before the pandemic. Chronic absenteeism typically means missing at least 18 days of a school year, or 10 percent, excused or unexcused.


School officials often work with families to resolve problems that hamper attendance. Students with multiple unexcused absences may also be found “truant,” which can lead to more-severe consequences. “There is a crazy number of kids that still end up at the juvenile justice system because of truancy,” said Prof. Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Even so, truancy is complex. State laws are widely different. Adding to that, school districts and prosecutors don’t always enforce truancy laws. National data are limited, given the hodgepodge of state definitions. Still, it’s been clear for years that missing school matters. Children fall behind in their classes. They are at greater risk of failing a grade and dropping out of school. They often grow disconnected from teachers and friends. They miss out on school services, including free meals and mental health support. In Maryland’s Montgomery County, several hundred middle school students a year participate in a truancy prevention program that officials say is slated to expand. John McCarthy, the prosecutor who helped create the program, said it is “needed now more than ever.”

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