Letter to the Editor

Don’t make parents pay when schoolkids play hooky

Regarding Colbert I. King’s Nov. 24 op-ed column, “We’re failing D.C.’s youth”:

Children may miss school if they are hungry or don’t have warm clothes to wear — issues that wouldn’t be helped by Mr. King’s proposals of parental fines and incarceration for habitual truancy. Such actions would only diminish a family’s future. And youths who are “grade levels behind” may see only humiliation and frustration in attending school, rather than hope and opportunity.

It is a cop-out to blame truancy on parents, the vast majority of whom desperately want their kids to succeed. Truancy arises from the failure of adults in control of District schools and budgets to create a quality educational system for all of D.C.’s youth.

My Puerto Rican father dropped out of high school due to language barriers, but that was in a different era — one in which you could own a house and raise a family on a factory worker’s income. That era evaporated even during his lifetime.

Mr. King was correct in saying that the earnings trajectory for those without a high school degree is dismal. But doling out harsh punishment for truant students to their parents is ineffective at best. At worst, it is a cover for institutional negligence.

Tracy Velázquez, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Justice Policy Institute.

 
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