Charging children for detention

Is it me, or have we as a society become overzealous in financially punishing people? Money is not the answer to everything.

Park in the wrong space, and, whack, it can cost you big bucks. Bounce a check and get smacked with a high penalty fee often two or three times the amount of the check. Now a charter school system in Chicago is charging students for detention. Noble Network of Charter Schools is requiring students at its 10 high schools to pay $5 every time they are sent to detention, reports the Associated Press.

The infractions that can add up and ultimately land a child in detention include chewing gum, having untied shoelaces or not looking a teacher in the eye, as AP and other news organizations have reported. The charter schools collected almost $190,000 in fees from discipline actions against students. Noble students receive demerits for various rule-breaking. For example, they get four demerits for bringing a cellphone to school or for having one shoelace untied. Four demerits within a two-week period earn them a detention and $5 fine. Students who get 12 detentions in a year must attend a summer behavior class that costs $140.

It’s not surprising that Noble’s detention policy is drawing some fire.

“Critics say Noble is nickel-and-diming its mostly low-income students over insignificant, made-up infractions that force out kids administrators don’t want,” AP reported.

“We think this just goes over the line ... fining someone for having their shoelaces untied (or) a button unbuttoned goes to harassment, not discipline,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the Chicago advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education, which held protests over the policy last week.

Matthew Mayer, a professor in the graduate school of education at Rutgers University, told the AP that charging for detention was a “form of financial torture.”

The school’s superintendent, Michael Milkie, said the policy teaches the kids that there’s a cost when they fail to obey rules. He said the fees are also used to defray the after-school detention program and pay the salary of the network’s dean of discipline.

I agree with Mayer that Noble’s policy is extreme and harsh. A demerit for an untied shoe, really? My very disciplined but very forgetful son would be in detention the entire school year. As a friend pointedly said: “We keep looking for quick fixes to educating inner city children. We look for harsh, harsher, and the harshest ways to discipline them, motivate them, make them want to learn. But there is no substitute for caring about them. If we care about them – the way we seem to care about suburban children – we wouldn’t need to look for these gimmicks.”

That’s what I think, too. What about you?

The Color of Money Question for the Week: Do you think it’s a good policy to charge students for detention? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city, town and state. Why do I ask for this information when I post the question of the week? I believe people are more respectful and thoughtful when they can’t hide behind anonymity. Please put “Charging for Detention” in the subject line.

Taxing Frequent-Flyer Miles

Some frequent flyers are finding that their reward miles aren’t as free as they thought.

Citibank customers who earned frequent-flyer miles for opening accounts received notices that they had to pay taxes on the value of the miles, reported Time magazine’s Martha C. White.

In response, those cardholders are taking Citibank to court. In their class-action lawsuit, the cardholders argue that they were not specifically informed that getting the miles could mean owing $350 in federal and state income taxes for 40,000 miles with American Airlines.

The lawsuit says that Citibank offered 40,000 frequent-flyer miles with American Airlines to anyone opening an account. It says that the bank didn’t specify that cardholders had to report 2½ cents per mile as income to the Internal Revenue Service, reported Time.

Citibank said they the promotional miles were a gift and are taxable.

“We are aware of the lawsuit filing and confident in the appropriateness of our disclosures, and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit,” a Citibank spokesman said in a statement.

Responses to “Work at Home”

For last week’s Color of Money question, I asked: “Do you have trouble turning off the ‘work you’ when you get home?” The question stemmed from an On Leadership blog posting by Brene Brown.

Brown wrote: “This emotional armor we bring to work is heavy, and the weaponry takes a long time to assemble, so when we get home in the evenings, we don’t put it away. It’s too much trouble, and, frankly, it’s too risky.”

Christine Valle of California said her kids – ages 20 and 17 – complain that she doesn’t turn off her work mode when she gets home. But she argues that she shouldn’t.

“I think that being a manager at work and being a parent can be complementary skills,” she wrote. Our children “are different with different skills, talents and ways of doing things. Just like employees. I’ve managed for about 25 plus years. The key is getting people to realize what their passion is, build on it, take a few risks to grow and continue to learn new skills for their entire lives.”

“I have learned over the years that I need an hour after work to decompress,” wrote Delores O’Mara of Juneau, Alaska. “Whether I meditate, read, or just enjoy solitude, it keeps me from snapping at my family and makes me an all around better person to be around. It’s hard on busy days when I already don’t have much time with family but I really need time away from everyone before I can process in a non-task oriented way.”

“I know a lot of people have this problem, but let’s turn it around: Why must we armor ourselves so heavily when we go to work?” wrote Earl Roethke of Minneapolis. “Do our work places really have to be a battle ground? In a well led company all the employees would understand that by cooperating, instead of competing for turf, the success of the whole is so much greater.”

Baby On Board

A reader recently wrote to The Washington Post @Work columnist Karla Miller to get advice on whether she should disclose that she is pregnant during job interviews.

It’s “a complicated algorithm of legal, practical and ethical issues, and there’s no one right solution,” wrote Miller.

Jacob Perez of Los Angeles had a reallife example of how keeping a pregnancy quiet affected one department. A job candidate did not disclose she was three months pregnant, Perez wrote. She was offered the job but told her managers that she could not perform any activities that would expose her to chemicals. The overwhelming majority of her responsibilities required being around chemicals, Perez said.

“California employment laws tied our hands, and we were forced to hire an employee who was unable to perform her duties for almost a year because of her maternity leave,” Perez said. “We felt taken advantage of and that she had been deceitful. Our short-staffed department had lost the opportunity to improve the workload for the other employees, and needless to say the bad will she garnered followed her for years with the women in the department being the most critical. So again, honesty is the best policy.”

Upcoming Events

-- On Wednesday, Feb. 29, I will be moderating The Washington Post’s Behind the Headlines discussion “Peeling Backs the Labels: Black Women in America.” The event will be held on the campus of Howard University in the Armour J. Blackburn University Center, 2397 Sixth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20059. The program will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited. To RSVP, e-mail behindtheheadlines@washpost.com.

Panelists include Tricia Bent-Goodley, professor at Howard University; Cara V. James, director of the Disparities Policy Project for Kaiser Family Foundation; Rahiel Tesfamariam, founder and editorial director of UrbanCusp.com and Washington Post staff writer Krissah Thompson.

Let’s Chat Today

Join me today at noon ET for my online text chat.

My guests will be Roberta K. Taylor and Dorian Mintzer. They wrote “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Transitioning to the Second Half of Life.” The book was my February Color of Money Book Club selection.

If you can’t join me live, send in your questions early. Or read the archives later.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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