Monday, August 16, 2010

Stop SB1317: Proposed truancy law fines, jails California parents

Malaika Parker, Director of Community Action, uses her experience organizing parents through the R.E.A.L. Schools Now! Campaign in Richmond, CA to offer an analysis of the California Senate's chronic truancy legislation, SB1317:

Eighteen days and your parent can land in jail – what a message to send to the students in California elementary and middle schools. First we blamed students for the failings of public education and now, instead of California doing everything possible to make responsive, inclusive schools, SB1317 threatens to blame parents. Under this proposed legislation parents with children labeled chronically truant (18 or more unexcused days per school year) would either receive a fine, be remanded to jail or parenting classes for which the state has no money.

Consistently the response to the failures the public school system has been rooted in a desire to find the quick fix, instead of taking a deep look at what is happening in our schools. Our children are being warehoused, underserved, and over-tested. Children of color are being denied education that prepares them for their futures.

Families are told over and over again that they are not welcome as engaged, critical members of the school community. Instead of looking at the root of why our communities, families, and young people feel disengaged by schools SB1317 and much of the school reform discussion is focused on what parents need to do differently. This bill is a slippery slope toward teaching children that their parents are the barrier to success, education, and prosperity.

SB1317 is the personification of what many parents fear; that schools and the prison industrial complex are one in the same. Districts such as San Francisco boast that this method is the path toward improved student attendance, but at what cost? The price for these strategies is creating an environment of intimidation and disconnection.

Families have fought, demanded, and pleaded with California to do a better job at supporting students. They have been encouraged to wait, to be patient, and to allow their children’s education to be put at the bottom of the totem pole. I wonder what would happen if we moved towards engaging schools where parents are considered leaders, where students – all students – are considered scholars, and our communities are treated as assets to the learning process. 

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This article completely ignores the parental role in education. Studies show how parental involvement improves a child's academic performance. At a MINIMUM, they must be forced to get their children to school. As a former teacher, I know how detrimental missing school is on everything from phonics and reading to scientific critical thinking. 18 days is a tremendous amount of time. We have obligatory education in this country until the age of 16 or 18 (I forget CA law), but that means that we need the judicial branch to enforce the law in order for the goals to be met - the goal being a society of well educated young people. Again, this article ignores the facts: Very few cases actually included prison sentences and just the threat reminds parents of their responsibilities. Another reason SB1317 is fantastic is that it helps social needs to be addressed - i.e. if a parent is homeless or has issues with substance abuse, the authorities can be alerted for the sake of the children. Without this accountability from the courts, we lose children to childhood's filled with abuse or insufficient resources. This law is far less punitive than it could be. For elementary students, learning time is crucial, especially if they have not attended preschool, live in a household without books, and are exposed to far fewer words than their counterparts. This bill attempts to counteract the achievement gap by leveling the playing field and taking out obstacles that children in poverty face.

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