The Superintendent of Schools in New Britain, CT has proposed fining truants $75/day. Opinions about this are all over the lot:
- Some students think it’s a good idea, some don’t.
- Many, both students and others, point out that it doesn’t begin to tackle the causes of the problem.
- How will a student be identified as a truant? Many are adept at slipping in and out of the buildings, or hiding inside them.
- Nobody knows how the fines will be collected, nor what will happen to someone who doesn’t pay.
- $75 is a lot of money to a poor but honest person; to a drug dealer, it isn’t even pocket change.
- This might disproportionately affect minority students. Although that sounds on the face of it to be a spurious argument, since skipping school is an opportunity equally available to students of all races and creeds, the same argument was used to torpedo an attempt to outlaw open bottles in automobiles.
- If the student is a minor (for the purposes of criminal law), presumably the parents would be responsible for the fine. If the student is an adult (again, for the purposes of criminal law), presumably the student would be responsible. Again, the enforcement mechanism becomes an issue.
- Legally speaking, would this be an infraction or a misdemeanor? There’s a big difference, since a misdemeanor goes on your criminal record.
- Does the city even have the ability to pass an ordinance like this? Would it need approval from the state?
The Connecticut chapter of the ACLU says they are watching this with interest (as well they should). It would set an interesting precedent.
An organization called the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance has weighed in on this subject. They point out that Los Angeles is in the process of doing away with a similar policy because it did more harm than good. The city is in all kinds of legal hot water, and all it accomplished was to make kids hide from the cops. They also claim that a single court appearance can increase the odds of a student dropping out by 300%. [This gets back to my question of whether this would be a misdemeanor or an infraction. — JS]
They go on to say the obvious: the root causes of truancy have to be addressed if the city wants to reduce its 48% rate of chronic truancy.