Jewish World Review Feb 13, 2012/ 18 Shevat, 5772
Minor tardiness doesn't warrant court action
By Dan K. Thomasson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Who is in charge of the nation's public schools, Dumb or Dumber? Whoever they may be, there seems to be an enormous disconnect between the words "common" and "sense." They may be common, but there is little evidence of sense at times.
Take, for instance, Loudon County, Va., where officials equate chronic tardiness with chronic absenteeism in a seeming misinterpretation of state law that mentions the latter word but not the former. The result means classifying those who frequently make it to their classrooms two or three minutes late with those who don't show up at all.
This isn't a defense of tardiness. I don't like it. But what I like even less is the punishment for lateness that in no way matches the crime. Prosecuting parents in the courts as misdemeanor miscreants and threatening them with a hefty fine is not only a tad extreme but a waste of public time and money. Other states with similar policies have decided the same thing after parental protest.
Let me explain. According to the local media, a family in the town of Waterford, about 35 miles from Washington, has difficulty getting the three elementary-school children to school exactly on times. The father commutes to his business and must head to work early, leaving the mother to make sure lessons are done, breakfast is eaten and energetic children ages 6 to 9 are corralled for the quick drive to school. She volunteers as a room mother and teacher's aide some days. Getting everyone up 15 minutes early has been unproductive, with dallying endemic among youngsters.
They have been late 30 times since September, but seldom by more than two or three minutes. When they arrive at school, the youngsters always are well fed, clean and ready to learn. Their report cards reflect excellent grades and deportment to match. Furthermore, the teachers failed to mention tardiness on the cards and had only praise for the youngsters.
The other day, however, a sheriff's deputy showed up at the front door with summons for the parents to appear in court for violating truancy statutes. Few things are more demeaning. What's next: a wanted poster?
I am not defending the family's intransigence when it comes to getting children to school on time. Millions of parents manage to do so under similar circumstances. But there are clearly ways of handling this without making a "federal case" out of it.
One is to make the children stay over in a detention period, with the mother asked to supervise. The time of after-school "incarceration" would depend on the amount and frequency of tardiness. Another would be to set a limit on the number of tolerable incidents and then begin dropping grades beyond that point, bringing pressure on the parents from not only the school but from unhappy kids.
(This isn't Japan, after all, where the doors or gates are locked the second the bell rings. That worked fine until a little girl rushing to get through was crushed and authorities had to make an adjustment.)
Neighboring Fairfax County, Va., with a nationally acclaimed school system, found out the cost of inflexibility last year. Much of its school board was booted out of office over rigid adherence to a zero-tolerance policy that led to a student's suicide.
Many jurisdictions across the country may not have gotten the message when it comes to turning minor infractions into major crimes. Examples abound of bad judgment in the administration of a school or an entire system.
A girl's life is ruined by false accusations over drugs. Another takes her own life after being harassed by schoolmates; a principal refuses to take proper action to protect another girl from a bully and remains unrepentant despite a cost of $150,000 to the school and the bully's insurance company.
Whatever, the difference between tardiness and absenteeism is huge. Take your choice, Dumb or Dumber.
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