Tuesday, November 3, 2015 | 13 comments

Here’s How Many Utah Parents Have Been Imprisoned for their Child’s Truancy

By Josh Daniels

Childhood education in our country has gone from private and optional to public and mandatory. However, schools were never intended, and are not equipped, to replace parents. Local control of education at the state, district, and neighborhood level is designed to ensure that schools remain an extension of the child’s parents at home—not a replacement for them. Unfortunately, it appears that Utah has moved away from this ideal. As attendance at government schools was legally made mandatory, the government subsequently created criminal penalties for failure to attend.

Compulsory education laws in Utah make it a class B misdemeanor for parents to keep children absent from school without a government-defined “valid” excuse, thereby turning parents into criminals for not taking full advantage of government schools on each and every government-assigned school day. A class B misdemeanor carries the possibility of jail time, placing parents behind bars if their children are not behind their desks.

Using data obtained through a records request, we looked at truancy actions in Utah courts over the past ten years. Interestingly, actions against students through the juvenile court system have declined significantly. However, while infrequent, court actions against parents have actually increased slightly in some cases. At the bottom of this post are graphs showing ten years of data for cases where charges were filed against parents for violation of compulsory education laws and penalties of jail or fines were imposed. This does not include cases where charges were filed and deals were made without imposing any formal penalties. The data indicates that in the past decade, 20 parents were jailed and 171 fined for violations of Utah compulsory education laws.

As school budgets become tight, the funding formulas that depend on student attendance create strong financial incentives for districts to compel and enforce attendance. Anecdotal evidence suggests that districts are tightening up attendance policies and becoming stricter with how excused absences are issued. This may be part of the reason court actions against students seem to have declined in recent years. However, schools may be increasing enforcement against parents, as fines and jail sentences seem to have increased slightly.

Ultimately, parents are accountable to the source of their stewardship over their children—and that source is not government. Laws like these, while well-meaning, confuses the relationship between government and students, and children and their parents.

Explore the charts below to see the recent history of truancy actions against parents and youth in Utah courts.

   

About the Author

Josh Daniels is a policy advisor for the Libertas Institute. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Brigham Young University and with a J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. Previously, he worked for three years as an aide to US Congressman Pete Olson and served for eight years in the United States Marine Corps.


13 comments
Anonymous
Anonymous

Copied from another site when someone was commenting about this...

"You data set also does not include cases like ours - where my wife was charged with truancy - despite having complied with the law and having filed a home school affidavit, as per statute. The Jordan School district insisted on prosecution, including berating our teenage son because "the Book of Mormon doesn't belong in a language arts curriculum" in reference to our home schooling. And, while the law doesn't allow the school district to inquire about home school curriculum, once a referral is made to juvenile court (rightly or wrongly) government workers are free to so inquire, criticize, argue, scrutinize, etc. While we ultimately prevailed in getting the charges dismissed, it was after about a year of aggressive litigation, which many families would be hard pressed to model. And, on a related side note, it was surprising to me - even after all I've been through, that the school district and the juvenile court staff were completely fine with ignoring the home school affidavit(s) on file - and claimed that there was some sort of authority for them - besides the home school statute, that overrides the affidavits. But, that's another story. Personal experience - this data underestimates the problem."

JDaniels
JDaniels

@Anonymous Very good point. The data came from court convictions and so only reflects prosecuted cases with a final disposition (outcome). It is very hard to find out how many parents have had to fight a prosecution that was dismissed or may not have ended up as a conviction with a fine or jail time. The problem could be much larger than the court figures alone show. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Dale
Dale

Are not home schooling exempt?

MikeTrapp
MikeTrapp

What do we care about , percentages, or principles? People seem to feel that government can do what it wants as long as the it doesn't exceed some tiny percentage.  Some of these people seem to be fed by the same government they agree with. When you get your bread and butter from the government don't be surprised that you agree with their tactics, 99 percent of the time. Until it impacts your individual life negatively why should you care? 

berferd
berferd

I concur with Brian. Is the X axis one week or thirty years? 

As both the son and husband of educators, I can share that the cases which do go to trial are only the most egregious, almost always with aggravating factors. Almost without exception, criminal factors. 

An uneducated, or under-educated, populace is expensive to support, and detrimental to a stable society. Without some means of breaking the cycle of educationally dysfunctional parents raising educationally dysfunctional children, there is a natural geometric increase from that situation. Breaking the cycle by means of enforced laws is part of the choices we, as a society, can and have the responsibility to make.

Ignominious
Ignominious

@berferd 

This is a perfect example of the government creating the problem and then wanting more power to fix it.  It's not the governments job to be our nanny at birth, youth or adult age.


Those that attend government school systems are indoctrinated with the idea that that is the right and only way.  Such belief perpetuates the need for more and more government.  We (even in Utah) are already heavily into socialism, heading towards ever more tyranny.


People seem to be ok with tyranny as long as they have their "freedom" to have a beer, watch their favorite sports, attend church or go boating. 

It's an illusion.

Ty_B
Ty_B

@berferd If you hover over either line in each of the graphs, it will give you x-y data. It looks like both graphs run from 2004 through this current year.

Data observer
Data observer

"Anecdotal evidence suggests", mainly because the real data doesn't.  I wouldn't draw any conclusions about fines or jail time increasing or decreasing from these data.  If you are talking about roughly 600 truancy cases out of more than 600,000 public school children then that is less than 0.1% of the students.  Do we need legislation for that?  I would say that these represent the most extreme cases when Districts or Charters are the end of their remedies in working with parents or students.  

JDaniels
JDaniels

@Data observer The anecdotal evidence was not reports of formal truancy actions but rather reports from people about stricter attendance policies at the individual school level that may actually prevent formal truancy actions from ever taking place. In other words, schools may be preventing truancy cases against juveniles from going to court by being more strict up front in setting standards and policies for excused absences. It is anecdotal because there is no way to measure how various schools set or enforce such policies and we have only heard reports from parents that school X or Y has imposed more strict excused absence policies this year or is more stringently enforcing absence policies. It is hard to measure but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Are you suggesting that because it is anecdotal and thus doesn't exist that schools are in fact imposing more lax attendance policies? The point was that in the face of tightening budgets, schools are enforcing attendance more stringently to ensure they don't lose funding for such students which may explain the decline in formal truancy cases in court against juveniles.

Guest
Guest

It goes back to 2004.  Hover your mouse over the graphed line and the year will pop up.

Brian
Brian

What is the scale of the x-axis on the chart? It would be helpful to show the year numbers I think (1975, 2010, etc.).

Garry Kershaw
Garry Kershaw

@Brian Same question I have. Can only assume it's a past ten, more recent, years - but that's only a guess. 

Ty_B
Ty_B

@Brian If you hover over either line in each of the graphs, it will give you x-y data. It looks like both graphs run from 2004 through this current year.

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