At least one police officer in Loudoun, VA thinks that one mother of three little girls should be punished for "contributing to the delinquency of her minor children." The specifics of her crime? Getting her children to elementary school late. Seven times. As she wrote to the blog FreeRangeKids.com (which, by the by, has been making a lot of news around here lately) :
After the fifth offense there was a meeting with a truant officer. We were late twice since then, which resulted in the surprise of three officers showing up on this Sat night (1.21.2012), where I was literally handcuffed and brought to the Adult Detention Center to meet with the magistrate who chose to release me with a $3,000 bond promised to be paid if I fail to show up for the arraignment in a few days.
That court date is today.
The mother, who signed her letter "A Virginia Mom," argues that the charges are technically ridiculous because the law speaks of punishment "in cases in which students are absent without awareness and notification from the parent." Her girls were not absent, they were "tardy" she says -- noting that they missed the starting bell by about ten minutes each time. And their parent certainly knew about it because she was part of these (unsuccessful) scrambles to get to school.
There are other factors specific to this case, including the fact that the mother and all three children have diagnosed disabilities such as ADHD and other psychological issues. But the central, more universal question, the mother says, is whether it should be "criminal behavior" to be an "imperfect" mother.
Yes, that is one way of phrasing the question. Another is, does prosecuting a parent actually work? And what falls within the logical realm of what you prosecute them for?
This one officer in one Virginia country is not the first to ask this question. A move to hold parents legally responsible for how children do in school has gathered steam in a number of states recently. In Florida, a measure was introduced in the legislature to give parents a report card measuring how prepared their child is for class. In Indiana, the proposal was to require parents to spend three hours each semester volunteering at or after school. (Neither measure was brought to a vote.)
In Alaska, legislation was passed allowing districts to fine parents $500 a day for every day a child misses school. And in California, ten absences without a doctor's note can now trigger a call from the school to the district attorney to bring charges against the parents.
It is too early to tell whether the laws are having an effect on student absences. The way "A Virginia Mom," tells it, similar laws are not likely to get her out of her house any earlier. She already seems to know it's important, and yet it still hasn't been happening.
Should this mother be handcuffed and prosecuted for her children's "tardiness"? When IS arresting the parents the answer?
Follow Lisa Belkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisabelkin