California Mother Sentenced to 180 Days for Abetting Truancy

A Hanford, California mother has been sentenced to 180 days in jail for allowing her two children to miss nearly ten percent of the school year. In California, the 10% rule is used to define chronic truancy — a threshold after which it becomes possible to punish the parent along with the student.

Tim Bowers, the superintendent of the Kings County Schools, the district in which Monroe Elementary is located, attempted to reach out to Lorraine Cuevas both by mail and by phone about the 116 absences racked up by her children, but in the end the district staff felt that they had no choice. The case was turned over to law enforcement officers, and Cuevas was arrested about two months ago on a charge of breaking the California truancy law – only the second person to ever be arrested on the charge in Kings County.

"We are trying to enforce the law and help, not only the school district, but also the kids. If they are in school they are less likely to be involved in gangs or drugs," Jahn told the Daily News.
Cuevas has served about a quarter of her jail time connected to the truancy case.

The children have been attending school regularly so far this school year.

Other parents at Monroe had mixed reactions to the arrest and conviction. While one of the mothers interviewed said that it would have been a better idea to limit her sentence or impose community service, another thought that Cuevas got off lightly. If it was up to Adriana Castaneda, she'd have been put in jail for a whole year for neglecting her children's education.

Whatever the parental opinion, Bowers at least believes the punishment is justified and that it sends the message that the district is going to get tough with parents of truants. This is somewhat in contrast with the approach now being explored in Los Angeles, as the leaders of the LA Unified School District are working to relax their disciplinary policies, which includes how the district deals with truants and their families. Now, chronic truants will get a referral to city youth centers for counseling and academic help instead of being arrested and possibly jailed.

However, in Florida, at least one city – Jacksonville – seems to be in agreement with Bowers: that the best way to deal with chronic absences and those who abet them is a strong enforcement of truancy policy.

Under the truancy ordinance, students who are found to be truant face an escalating series of punishments that begin with a citation and a ticket ranging from $25 to $100 plus $40 in court costs. Violators can also be sentenced to community service — and their parents, if they are found to have abetted the truancy, face similar fines and punishments. In addition, parents could be mandated by the court to attend parenting classes.

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