Chronic tardiness hurts children, schools

Kate Ryan,

WASHINGTON – Chronic tardiness causes some school systems to take legal action against parents when their kids are late to class. Educators say they turn to the courts because of the negative effect on a child’s education.

“It does disrupt what’s going on in the classroom,” says Kristen Amundsen, director of strategic communications at Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank.

But once parents have been contacted by law enforcement officials, it’s not just about a few tardies, officials say. Things have already turned serious.

Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Chaikin says taking parents to court over student lateness as a last-resort. Repeated tardies can constitute absences, and that’s when parents run into trouble. Even then, court action is a last-ditch effort, Chaikin says.

“It’s only when the absences are repetitive, they’re unexcused in nature and they’re more than 20 percent absent in one semester” that the courts take action, he says.

Montgomery County had two incidents during the previous academic year where parents were incarcerated after failing to comply with repeated efforts to stop their children’s chronic lateness.

And a Loudoun County mother was recently convicted and fined for her kids’ poor attendance record. Her three children were late 30 times in just four months.

But before the courts get involved, Chaikin says parents may be offered assistance in many forms. When that fails, “then it’s the carrot and stick approach,” he says.

“A judge will say ‘This is not an option for you. You must send your child to school unless there’s home schooling or unless there’s a valid excuse,'” Chaikin says.

In addition to potential legal consequences, a child’s chronic lateness can also hurt the school community.

At Oakland Terrace Elementary School, principal Cheryl Pulliam says tardies that add up to absences are recorded in the Annual Yearly Progress report, which rates schools under No Child Left Behind. When kids are absent during test-taking periods, those absences are recorded as a zero score, pulling down the school’s average.

Arriving late to school can also take a child off-track, negatively affecting their school performance, educators say. Some parents feel it’s more acceptable for younger students to miss classes because “it’s just elementary school.”

Pulliam stresses that these are formative years, when children are getting the skills they’ll need throughout their academic careers.

School systems outline policies on lateness and absences in fliers sent home to parents and on-line. After seeing a rise in absences resulting from parents who would pull their children out of school for extended vacations or international travel, Pulliam decided to take a new tack. At this year’s back to school night, she explained that missed work and tests could not be made up as part of the Montgomery County school system policy.

The change has made a big difference, she says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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