School Holds Parents Legally Accountable for Child’s Tardiness

COMMENTARY | A story hit media outlets yesterday about parents in Virginia who have been charged with misdemeanor charges stemming from their kids’ excessive tardiness to school. Their three kids, all under the age of 10, have been late for school 85 times since September.

Now let’s do a little activity: imagine what kind of family we are talking about here. It’s OK, we all get mental images when we read this type of story. Are you imagining a working-class family where both parents are working hard to make ends meet? Maybe you envision a family in which education doesn’t get much support. Perhaps this family lives way out in the country and missing the bus means a long drive to school?

Wrong. The father of these constantly-tardy kids is a lawyer. His wife is a stay-at-home mom. The family lives “blocks” from the school, and in fact, sometimes the kids walk to school. The parents are facing a March court date on the misdemeanor charges.

I don’t buy all of the excuse-making and deflections by the parents involved. My wife and I are both teachers, and we have to get our two daughters ready for school each morning. Some mornings are tough, and it’s a race to get the kids ready, on their buses and then get ourselves to our own schools on time. But we do it, and our story is not unique. It’s what working parents do, every day, all over the country.

The people I feel for are the classroom teachers of these kids. Teachers are under attacks from all directions right now. In Illinois, where I teach, the governor, the President of the state Senate and the Speaker of the Illinois House all want to significantly reduce teachers’ pensions, or at least make the local districts pay for what the state should be paying under the Illinois constitution.

Another change coming is the drive to tie teacher evaluations to student achievement. How can the teachers of the kids being late to school make sure these kids meet state and local standards if they are late to school every other day? These are the things that are out of teachers’ control, and yet they can very well influence how those kids do in school. Do I know if that is the case? No. Maybe those kids are still doing great in school, and I sincerely hope they are. But if not, I don’t blame the teacher.

I applaud the Loudoun Country Public Schools for going after parents who don’t get their kids to school on time. It seems they are serious about this, because another parent has been charged in similar circumstances. Good for the school system. They are going to come under heavy scrutiny, and some members of the community will criticize them for this. But if we really are going to improve our schools, it has to be an effort parents, teachers, administrators, and school boards do together.

Brad Boeker has taught for more than 20 years in a public high school in Illinois.

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