Virginia Schools Too Strict Over Tardiness, Say Parents

Officials in Virginia's Loudoun school district say they're simply doing what's necessary to protect kids, while parents say that the demands of real life means kids will be late occasionally — and that it's certainly not a Class 3 misdemeanor.

"This is against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of the Virginia," say summonses given to parents charged with too many school tardies, a Class 3 misdemeanor, writes the Washington Post.

While Virginia law doesn't explicitly deal with tardiness, a growing number of Loudoun parents say that county bureaucrats have been far too heavy-handed in their effort to rein in late arrivals.

Wayde Byard, spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools, said:

"It's not just trying to meddle in someone's affairs or dictate how someone raises their child.

"It's a child welfare issue, basically."

The sheriff's office said that there are dozens of Loudoun families summoned to court each year for attendance violations. However, school records say that of most tardies were for three minutes or less.

Amy Denicore, a mother of Loudoun children and regular volunteer at the school, said:

"Punctuality is important, but it's not the end-all be-all.

"It's not my goal that the kids are late, but my goal is that they arrive to school well-fed, ready to learn and comfortable in their skin."

School officials say that tardiness wastes time for the entire classes.

Anne Lewis, Loudoun's director of student services, said:

"Everything kind of stops for a few minutes and you have to reacclimate students into the classroom activities. That's a problem."

Principals in the district are compelled to refer families to one of the county's five truancy officers, officials say.

"There's some leeway in terms of how many tardies, but it has to be a good number," Lewis said.

If parents refuse to work with the truancy officer, then they may have to face the county's juvenile and domestic relations district court. Two to three parents per month are issued with serves attendance-related court summons, says a spokesman.

These Class 3 misdemeanors can bring a fine of up to $500. If that fee is not paid, or the situation doesn't improve, parents, like Loudoun mother Maureen Blake, could face jail.

Blake was arrested and charged with "contributing to the delinquency of her minor children by causing them to be habitually late to school," according to court documents.

She now faces a Class 1 misdemeanor that can carry a maximum of 12 months in jail, writes the Washington Post.

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that has advocated against harsh school discipline, said:

"Punitive discipline leads to a higher dropout rate, more hostility in schools, it leads to kids disengaging from learning and it alienates parents.

"It is counter to everything that we know should be done."

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