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Citing parents' constitutional rights, Utah lawmaker moves to decriminalize school truancy

Published February 16, 2016 7:48 pm

Legislature • Measure allows fines, misdemeanor charges.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's public education system would be a little less compulsory under a bill that received preliminary approval from the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Highland Republican Sen. Alvin Jackson, would remove the criminal penalty for parents whose children rack up unexcused school absences.

Currently, a parent can be fined or charged with a class B misdemeanor if they fail to meet with school administrators after being notified of a student's truancy.



But Jackson said the government's role in education is secondary to that of a child's family, and the compulsory education law inappropriately interferes with parents' rights.

"Education is not a constitutional right," Jackson said, "but being able to raise your kids the way you see fit is a constitutional right."

In most cases, families and school administrators are able to excuse student absences, avoiding the need for criminal action.

In the past decade, 20 Utah parents have been jailed and 171 fined for violating the state's compulsory education laws, according to data from the Libertas Institute.

Jackson said he has received truancy notices himself, and "more than several emails" from parents concerned about the threat of criminal charges.

Jacksons's son Frank is a basketball standout at Lone Peak High School and has had to miss school, Jackson said, for athletic demands that have taken him around the country. Frank Jackson last fall committed to play for Duke University.

On Tuesday, Alvin Jackson said the burden should be on schools to entice students to attend classes, rather than on their parents.

"We should also be encouraging our schools to do a better job of encouraging kids to want to be at school," he said.

Several lawmakers expressed concern with the bill. West Valley City Democratic Sen. Karen Mayne, a former educator, said the state needs a mechanism for encouraging parents to be responsible for their child's education.

"I have been in classrooms where the parents have taken them out for a month," she said. "I have seen kids come half-dressed because somebody can't get out of bed to get them to school."

And Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the bill would give a "get out of jail free card" to irresponsible parents.

"Making sure that a child is educated is an overwhelming responsibility of the state," he said.

The Senate voted 24-5 in favor of the bill. An additional Senate vote is required before the bill is transferred to the House for consideration.

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjainwood

 

 

 

 

 

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