Legislation that would allow fines for parents of habitually truant schoolchildren is to be revisited Friday by the House Education Standing Committee.
A substituted and amended HB320, sponsored by Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake, received considerable debate Wednesday before the committee postponed discussions, citing time restraints. Education and law-enforcement officials support the bill; home schoolers and some court officials oppose it."Truancy is a stepping stone to delinquency and criminal activity," Bourdeaux said. "Swift court action is necessary to impress on parents the seriousness of the truancy offense."
Utah's compulsory education law requires children ages 6 to 18 to attend school. School officials must make "earnest and persistent" efforts to shepherd kids to class, including counseling and parental meetings.
The bill would pick up there. Parents of students unexcused four times in four weeks or 10 in a semester could be fined if problems persist after notification.
Justice courts would hear truancy citations, carrying fines from $50 to $250. Fines may be waived for those proving one month's perfect attendance or agency referrals.
But Richard Schwermer of the Administrative Office of the Courts says courts require defendants to enter a plea within 14 days.
"We're dealing with a criminal citation. You don't have an (option) to come back and chat with a judge about how things are going."
The substitute bill provides exemptions for home-schooled, off-track year-round and working students, who must carry exemption certificates with them. Opponents questioned that tactic, citing harassment possibilities.
"Turning a 6-year-old home-schooled child into a card-carrying American is not legally or morally justifiable," said home-school parent Glen Parks.
While police now take suspected truants into temporary custody, the bill would allow them to issue citations and impound vehicles - a move home-schoolers called anti-family.