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Should Kids Go To Jail For Skipping School?
September 6, 2012
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Did you ever skip school as a kid? Chances are, even if you were a great student you probably showed up late for class once in a while, skipped class or took the day off. No big deal, right?

Well, you might think a little differently about skipping class if you knew you could go to jail for it.

Jail time and heavy fines for truancy (defined as "being intentionally absent from compulsory schooling") are becoming more common in some parts of the U.S.

In Texas, for example, students can be fined or even face time behind bars if they are repeatedly late for class without a valid medical excuse.

Back in May, a 17-year-old honour student in Houston named Diane Tran was jailed for 24 hours and fined $100 for missing class, despite explaining to the judge that both of her parents had divorced and moved away, and she was working two jobs to support her siblings.


The charges against her were eventually dropped after 235,000 people signed an online petition in protest, but Diane's case is not unique.

The Atlantic suggests that "thousands of students and their parents are regularly churned through similar courts without public scrutiny of the process, its costs, or its effectiveness."

In Canada, we have our own truancy laws. In 2010, Manitoba raised the "truancy age" (the youngest you can be before voluntarily leaving school) to 18, from 16.

The decision brought the province in line with Ontario and New Brunswick, who made the switch to 18 back in 2006.

Other provinces, including Alberta and Nova Scotia, have also considered raising the truancy age in order to encourage more kids to get a high school diploma.

A resolution from the public school division in Edmonton read "high school completion is a minimum expectation for success in our global society."

But in this country, enforcement is less likely - in Manitoba, judges can fine truant students up to $500, but Winnipeg school trustee Mike Babinsky doesn't remember a single fine being handed out in the last 15 years: "For you to go do the investigation in regards to the child actually dropping out and actually taking it to the courthouse and getting representation ... it's not worth it."

In the U.S., enforcement isn't a problem. Dallas alone has five truancy courts (the first was founded in 2003), and their only job is to process cases of absent students. And in L.A., school police handed out 33,500 tickets to allegedly truant students between 2009 and 2011.

But some observers don't think using the threat of legal action is the ideal way to get kids back to school, especially kids who are most at risk.

A 2003 study by Kenneth Adams, funded by the National Institute of Justice, surveyed the research and found that enforcement of some anti-truancy laws, like daytime curfews, can "needlessly add to the criminal histories of some juveniles."

What do you think? Will the threat of fines and jail time encourage better school attendance? Should we consider enforcing our own truancy laws more stringently? Let us know in the poll below:

Truancy And The Law

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