Bill seeks charges against truant students' parents
BISMARCK -- Parents who are chronically negligent in seeing that their children attend school could face misdemeanor criminal charges under a bill heard in the House Wednesday.
Senate Bill 2217 was introduced by Mandan legislators after school officials there convinced them that there is a growing problem with grade school students missing large amounts of school.
"This is a very important step that has to be taken," said Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan. "Unfortunately, we have a real truancy problem."
Cook and others who favor the bill, including Mandan Superintendent Wilfred Volesky, said elementary students who miss a lot of school are being set up to fall behind and drop out when they reach 16.
Most high school drop-outs did not develop the habit of skipping school after they got to high school, Volesky said. It results from how their families enforced attendance in grade school.
"Truancy at this level is more often a parent issue," he said.
Volesky outlined how Mandan sends letters to and phones parents in efforts to get children back in school on a regular basis. Some respond to the calls or letters and others don't, he said.
"These parents have no fear of the current legal consequences," he said.
Those testifying for the bill explained that current law already allows parents to be charged with a crime if they fail to send their kids to school. But that charge is a class C felony child neglect charge and prosecutors are loathe to file felony charges.
"A class C felony is a pretty tough sanction," Volesky said.
The threat of an infraction on the first offense, is a charge with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine, or a class B misdemeanor on a second or subsequent offense. That carries a maximum 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Mandan High School Principal Mark Andresen said that if schools are being held accountable for student performance through the No Child Left Behind program, then parents need to be held accountable, too, for their actions that cause students to fail in school.
The state Department of Public Instruction favors the bill but wants an amendment to ensure that studies and statistics on the problem statewide are conducted in future years.
No one testified against the bill.