The Washington Post

UPDATE: Trial of Loudoun parents for too many tardies is postponed

Update: The Denicores’ trial has been postponed to June 7 because the prosecutor is unavailable, Mark Denicore told Virginia Schools Insider.

Original story:

A verdict is expected Thursday in a Loudoun County court case that has raised questions about whether parents should be criminally prosecuted for frequently failing to get their kids to school on time.

The three Denicore children arrived at school on time on this day in early February. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

They were summoned to court in February after their three elementary-school children were late about 30 times during the first semester, or about once every three school days. Most of their tardies were for less than three minutes.

Since then, the prosecutor has added more allegations to the record. Now the Denicores have to answer not only for tardies from this school year, but also for more than 30 tardies per child from the second semester of the 2010-11 school year and for absences from both years --about 13 for each child, including a five-day family vacation in October.

Their case, widely covered in the media, has triggered debate about whether the school system is overreacting over a minor offense or rightly cracking down on a habit that’s disruptive to teachers and other students.

The commonwealth’s attorney argues that the Denicores violated Virginia’s compulsory education law, §22.1-254, which says parents have to send their kids to school “for the same number of days and hours per day” as public schools are in session.

Similar cases are usually heard and decided within 15 minutes, a judge told the Denicores in February. But this one became a more substantial affair when the Denicores, both trained as lawyers, decided to put up a fight.

They argue that the statute they’ve allegedly violated — which makes no mention of absences or tardies — is only meant to ensure that parents enroll their kids in school. It’s not meant to deal with truancy, they say — and if it is, then it’s unconstitutionally vague.

When the trial opened in March in Loudoun’s juvenile and domestic relations court, the Denicores said they had learned their lesson and moved to have the case dismissed.

“We’ve reprioritized our children’s morning routines in order to achieve this understandable goal,” said Mark Denicore, acting as attorney for himself and his wife. “We’ve taken these allegations seriously.”

Judge James B. Robeson said he wouldn’t rule on the motion to dismiss until considering all the evidence. He heard an hour and a half of arguments — and only a fraction of the expected witness testimony — before concluding that the trial couldn’t be concluded in one session.

“This seems like it’s going to go on a lot longer than I thought,” Robeson said at the time.

During that first session, there was time enough for testimony from only one witness: attendance officer Lori Melcher, called by prosecutor Alejandra Amato.

Melcher said that before referring the Denicores to court, she sent two certified letters about the tardies and set up a meeting to discuss the problem. The Denicores refused to attend the meeting, she said.

Today, Mark Denicore is expected to cross-examine Melcher and question witnesses he has called, including his children’s principal and several teachers.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.


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