Should getting kids late to school result in an arrest?

In Sunday’s Post, my colleague Emma Brown delved into what, on the surface, should seem like a ludicrous over-reaction, but is actually a not-so-rare occurrence in some school jurisdictions.

(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

The protocol, goes like this: A parent is late with enough frequency that it comes to the principal’s attention; the principal calls a truancy officer; if the truancy officer finds the parents uncooperative, s/he refers the matter to the juvenile and domestic relations district court, which can lead to a court summons and fine.

Loudoun’s seemingly quick-trigger use of this protocol was first highlighted last month by Lenore Skenazy on her Free Range Kids blog.

Skenazy wrote about a Loudoun single mother who had written to her about an experience with the truancy policy that had so escalated that the mother was arrested at her home late one Saturday evening.

Skenazy, who highlights over-protection towards kids across the country, called it the “Outrage of the Week.” She held the case up as proof that “the fear of children being neglected or falling behind has gone overboard.”

That mother, Maureen Blake, later spoke with me and with Brown. Her particular story involved having to leave her daughters’ sleepover party and lean on generous friends at the last minute to babysit while she answered to a charge of “contributing to the delinquency of her minor children by causing them to be habitually late to school.” Her treatment certainly seemed egregious. The school system would not comment on her specific case.

On the other hand, Brown quoted a school official who explained the tardiness problem from a teacher’s perspective:

“School officials said tardiness affects more than the latecomer — it wastes time for the whole class. ‘Everything kind of stops for a few minutes and you have to reacclimate students into the classroom activities. That’s a problem,’ said Anne Lewis, Loudoun’s director of student services.”

Lewis’ makes a point worth considering. Schools are not only dependent on kids following the rules, but also parents. Teachers and administrators follow disciplinary protocol when kids break the rules — what is the best course of action when parents break the rules?

Trust me, I empathize with parents who have a hard time making it to school on time. I average a missed-it-by-a-minute drop-off about twice a month. And, let’s be clear, these are the kinds of transgressions that the families were guilty of in Brown’s story. They were missing the opening bell by mere minutes.

But, they were also late frequently.

Court summons and fines (not to mention arrest) certainly seem to be draconian reactions. Still, habitual lateness does cause a problem in the classroom. Most schools handle the issues internally. But what happens when write-ups and talking-tos don’t work?

Is the best approach to work around the latecomers? Or to try to offer some supportive solution (say a walking school bus option)? Or to turn to more punitive measures?

What does and doesn’t work at your school?

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