Public schools

Jail for Missed Days at School? The Madness of Truancy Laws.

The state finds ever more ways to menace you with imprisonment...for your own good.

|

We've seen it happen again and again: libertarians are derided over some supposedly crazy or esoteric position, years pass, and eventually others start to see why our position made sense. It's happened with asset forfeiture, with occupational licensure, with the Drug War, and soon, perhaps, with libertarians' once-lonely critique of school truancy laws.

People, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other outlets are reporting on the case of Julie Giles of Sylvania, Georgia, who was arrested and put in shackles after her son Sam, who has been on the honor roll and won a "Student of the Month" citation, had nine unexcused sick absences when only six are allowed. Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak has reported on a 13-year-old straight-A piano prodigy charged with truancy in D.C. for taking ten days off to play on international concert stages, and another local mother charged with truancy because she took her son on an overseas trip for purposes of adopting his little brother.

In his 1980 bestseller Free to Choose, economist Milton Friedman (who was also a prescient critic of occupational licensing and the Drug War) had this to say about compulsory school attendance laws:

But it is far from clear that there is any justification for the compulsory attendance laws… research has shown that schooling was well-nigh universal in the United States before attendance was required. In the United Kingdom, schooling was well-nigh universal before either compulsory attendance or government financing of schooling existed. Like most laws, compulsory attendance laws have costs as well as benefits. We no longer believe the benefits justify the costs.

American policymakers didn't just ignore Friedman's views, they galloped off in the other direction. Coaxed by the education lobby, legislatures toughened school attendance laws, barbing them with more criminal and civil penalties (as distinct from administrative sanctions such as, say, not letting a truant student advance to the next grade without showing appropriate competence). George W. Bush's secretary of education in 2004 "hosted the first-ever National Truancy Prevention Conference, where he called for a 'crackdown' on school absence." On the other side of the aisle, impeccably progressive California attorney general Kamala Harris as a state senator introduced a bill to imprison parents for as long as a year if their kids miss too much school. Lawmakers also proceeded to raise school-leaving ages; President Obama himself has proposed making schooling compulsory until age 18 or graduation.  

Texas not only criminalized truancy but has provided for young offenders to be tried in adult courts, leading to extraordinarily harsh results especially for poorer families.  But truancy-law horror stories now come in regularly from all over the country, from Virginia to California. In Pennsylvania a woman died in jail after failing to pay truancy fines; "More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone—where Reading is the county seat—over truancy fines since 2000.")

The criminal penalties, combined with the serious consequences that can follow non-payment of civil penalties, are now an important component of what has been called carceral liberalism: we're finding ever more ways to menace you with imprisonment, but don't worry, it's for your own good. Yet jailing parents hardly seems a promising way to stabilize the lives of wavering students. And as Colorado state Sen. Chris Holbert, sponsor of a decriminalization billhas said, "Sending kids to jail—juvenile detention—for nothing more than truancy just didn't make sense. When a student is referred to juvenile detention, he or she is co-mingling with criminals—juveniles who've committed theft or assault or drug dealing."

Fortunately, if belatedly, a reaction is under way. The Marshall Project, which has done some excellent work questioning carceral liberalism from a generally liberal perspective, published a powerful critique of truancy criminalization in March ("Inexcusable Absences"). And the Texas legislature has now passed and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott a bill to modify its punitive law, following Gov. Rick Perry's veto of a similar bill in 2013.

Somewhere, Milton Friedman is nodding.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

Please to post comments

50 responses to “Jail for Missed Days at School? The Madness of Truancy Laws.

  1. alt text: your old homeroom doesn’t look so bad, now, does it?

    1. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……
      http://www.worktoday7.com

  2. Another example of “Government is force. Its only purpose is to prohibit or compel; coercion is its core competence and violence its tool.”

    The only astounding matter is that liberals profess horror when a blundering government enforces something they don’t like, as if the right Top.Men would do better, as if the same infinitely-repeated consequence could never have been predicted and will never recur.

    1. As if the flawed human beings that make up the evil free market and require constant supervision suddenly turn into selfless, wise managers when hired by the government.

      1. Yes, that always cracks me up. Or they say that only selfless enlightened people want to be government bureaucrats, as if they’ve never had to deal with post offices or DMVs or building inspectors or ……

        1. There’s also the problem that selfless enlightened people are nuts.

    2. Nonsense. The core Liberals LOVE this. They want to be Aristocrats, benevolently ruling the Lower Orders. It has never occurred to them that they would be peasants, too.

      1. And they all just KNOW they will be part of that ruling class because they talk and muse so much about how things should be run for the good of the people. They don’t even have a clue that, should their glorious revolution even take place, their last experience on this earth will be some government agent guiding them to a dark alley, a rough hand on their shoulder, and the muzzle of a 9mm against the back of their head.

      2. And they all just KNOW they will be part of that ruling class because they talk and muse so much about how things should be run for the good of the people. They don’t even have a clue that, should their glorious revolution even take place, their last experience on this earth will be some government agent guiding them to a dark alley, a rough hand on their shoulder, and the muzzle of a 9mm against the back of their head.

  3. OT (It’s Saturday, fuck it): Transgender activists lobbying NH legislature to ban discrimination against transgendered people.

    That’s Drew Carson of rochester, a transgender male who says those like him still face discrimination in hiring and housing.

    New Hampshire is the only New England state that does not outlaw discrimination based on gender identity.

    Christen Bastani of Bridgewater agrees and says it’s a matter of basic fairness

    “Because in the state we need to have laws which provide equality and provide for equal rights for all citizens,” Bastani said.

    Christy Hegarty of Durham said she learned early on her child wanted to be a different sex.

    The property owner makes the rules. If you don’t like, you are free to think the property owner is an asshole and take your business elsewhere.

    1. The thing is, someone can be a perfectly kind person, and productive citizen, while being totally nuts on one or two points. They may think socialism is the wave of the future, they may think they’re another sex, they may think they’re made of glass, etc. So long as you stay off the topic of their particular weirdness, you can probably get along with some of these fine folks.

      But this proposed law goes beyond getting along with people. It would tell people, on pain of fines and damages, that they have to cater to someone’s delusion and pretend to believe it. Not to mention corrupting the official record by changing birth certificates, etc.

      This goes beyond bathrooms (though that’s a particularly egregious instance of the badness of such laws). It extends its tentacles into dress codes, dressing rooms, and the like.

      I don’t want to give anyone any ideas, but what’s the next step – providing private islands for people who think they’re Napoleon? Watering cans so people who think they’re plants can water themselves?

      1. Deep inside someone knows, without a doubt, he is a woman. But…deep inside I know, without a doubt, he isn’t.

        I really think 20 years from now we’ll look back on this Caitlyn Jenner moment everyone seems to be in and think ‘how could we be so barbaric as to let people with mental disorders disfigure themselves’?

        1. Yeah, but then maybe in 200 yrs. they’ll say, “Too bad personalities in those days were confined to physical bodies.” Or maybe in less time than that if it turns out we continue to have experiences after death & remember our times alive, provided disembodied experience is much good.

    2. Some people claim that this bill will allow predators to pose as trannies to use opposite-sex restrooms.

      The thing is, when trannies and normal people are equally expected to use the restroom in accordance with their birth sex, then they are being treated the same- the opposite of discrimination.

  4. I was incarcerated in the Chicago Parental School in 1968 for four months because I quit going to school after two weeks in my freshman year at Harrison High School. That was a learning experience I have never forgotten.

    1. I quite school in Grade One. My Mom was okay with it. I missed about 70 days each year in grades 10/11/12. My parents were okay with it. My teachers were frustrated, but I kept getting 90-100% on actual tough tests, so they let it go.

      I don’t know what I would have done if I had been incarcerated for 4 months for quitting school. That is outrageous.

      Is this now why you refer to yourself as bacteria? Because I can see a good lawsuit coming out of this.

      1. Maybe it’s “schools”, like a plural of ecole, rather than Escherichia coli.

      2. No lawsuit is planned. I actually like school, but Harrison High was a fucking zoo. I didn’t miss anything important by not going. I graduated college after three years in the army.

        I also like E. Coli bacteria, there is no hidden meaning in it.

        Reform school was no fun, it was a trial by fire at the time, but I got through it.

  5. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
    go to tech tab for work detail ????????????? http://www.workweb40.com

  6. “[…] and eventually others start to see why our position made sense […]”

    In my experience, more often they see it come true and say ‘well it’s for your own good’.

    1. People will forgive you quicker for being wrong, than for being right.

      1. You keep that up and AC’s gonna have competition…

      2. No good deed ever goes unpunished.

    2. Which means we have to say, louder and more often, “My good is none of your fucking business.!”

  7. Bullying would not be such a problem if children could opt out of school.

    In addition, technology may, within a few decades, make public schools obsolete .

    fore these reasons, truancy laws should be abolished.

  8. We’ve seen it happen again and again: libertarians are derided over some supposedly crazy or esoteric position, years pass, and eventually others start to see why our position made sense. It’s happened with asset forfeiture, with occupational licensure, with the Drug War…

    Asset forfeiture? I don’t remember AF being a wingnut position, there has always been mainstream criticism of it. Eminent domain would be a better example. Better yet would be garbage collection, which was deeply ingrained as a function only government could do until a few municipalities stopped it.

    The trouble with winning all the battles is we’re still losing the war. Even when people come around on something, they never say to themselves “Gee, the libertarians were right all along about that”. We’re still the crazy wackjobs that want to sell heroin out of vending machines in the public schools.

    1. No, we’re winning the war too. No more Iron Curtain. No more telephone monopoly. Legal booze, & soon, pot. How many countries have abolished conscription? Very little porn is now illegal. Look at all the legal gambling. You can own gold in bullion & regular coins. Even dictatorships have fewer diktats than they used to, & they’re overthrown in a shorter time.

  9. Truancy laws are to schoolchildren and their parents what the Iron Curtain was to Eastern Europeans.

  10. Truancy is a national security interest. I say that sarcastically; however, I abhor the reality of ignorant phucks (me being generous here) being able to continue to erode my rights and take my property with their votes. I suppose I’m pissing in the wind thinking that the current educational system does much to stem that tide. Everyone is an honor student as long as they don’t piss on the teacher.

    1. Everyone is an honor student as long as they don’t piss on the teacher.

      Unless the teacher is into that sort of thing, then it’s mandatory.

  11. The growth of the all-enveloping, dictating totalitarian state will continue, unless a revolutionary change occurs! Here, illustrated as it is in so many areas , as it is interwoven in such a multitude of oppressions, is government’s(and others’) assertion of domain over human beings from birth. Ultimately, it is not the parent that has sovereignty over his child, it is the state, and ultimately no adult has sovereignty over himself, the goddamn tyrannical state exercises authority.

    Make no mistake, though, this is not just a “liberal” doing–“conservatives” are every bit as responsible for this state of affairs. Sure, when it comes to schooling issues, conservatives generally take a libertarian stance; but elsewhere, like the drug prohibition, they adamantly endorse the totalitarian principles, like the right of the state to regulate, prohibit and impose behavior for people’s own good. Indeed, when it comes to the drug war, they’re often even more vociferous than the liberals.

    They must all be removed from power!!

    Robert Farrior
    New Jersey
    robertsrevolution.net

    1. Hell, they used to draft people. What countries still do that? Even the ones that do are generous with alternatives.

      Even drug laws are more permissive than they used to be. We’re seeing cannabis migrate to the accepted side, but we already got dietary supplements exempted from drug regul’n. We also have various legal lifestyle drugs, such as those against dandruff, sweating, gestation, erectile dysfunction, hyperactivity, & hair loss; at one time it was questionable whether authorities would permit these, or limit drugs to disease treatment, but now it’s clear they’re open to considering life-enhancing drugs too.

  12. What is truly crazy is that in Texas, all a parent has to do is send a letter to the school withdrawing their child and saying they will be home schooled. So why would you submit to truancy regs?

    When you realize, as a parent who home schools, that you are actually in charge, you make all the decisions, it is absolutely the best day ever.

    1. You submit to truancy regs if you can’t afford to home-school or privately school.

  13. Milton Friedman got it right with his series free to choose. I believe something like this would benefit Rand Paul. He could even invite all the candidates from both sides to unscripted debates.

    Probably all of the other candidates would refuse, because they know their version of history, and their beliefs would be brought to light for what they really are. Rand could carry that into the scripted televised debates, and bring up how no one in the stage wished to engage in an unscripted debate, and use that as ammo against them.

  14. It’s especially maddening because if you homeschool or have a private school, no problem! I tutored a girl who was a professional violinist & a student at the School for Professional Children, which caters to children primary thru HS grades who are in show biz, and therefore has flexible arrangements. It’s only families who don’t have the resources & hence must go to gov’t schools who are targeted for this enforcement.

    If the student is out sick a lot with a chronic condition, what’s s/he supposed to do, go to a doctor who’ll bill for saying, “Yep, you’re still sick.”?

    But overall, the issue is that the gov’t school system isn’t about achievement at all, but all about putting in time. We succeeded in putting this many warm bodies this much of the time in seats?or not in seats, just milling around in the halls!

  15. Reminds me of the story of the USA’s only national HS football championship game. A public school varsity from NYC might’ve played in it, but the supt. of schools wouldn’t allow them the time off to travel & play!

  16. Anybody interested in a subthread to discuss whether there should be criminal law (anywhere in the world) at all? Or at least whether abolishing criminal law in whatever country you’re in would be better than the status quo?

    1. Robert|6.6.15 @ 8:14PM|#
      “Anybody interested in a subthread…”

      Hell, don’t ask; state OT and go for it. Make your statements and someone will be sure to argue.
      I hadn’t considered it, so I don’t have an opinion on it, but that could change in 25 minutes or so.
      Oh, and BTW, the newest thread is what gets PM posts, so you might want to put it in that thread.

      1. But this is the thread that reminds me about the issue.

  17. George W. Bush’s secretary of education in 2004 “hosted the first-ever National Truancy Prevention Conference, where he called for a ‘crackdown’ on school absence.”

    Sure, because it’s the place they can scratch, rather than where it itches. They know if they demand actual educational progress, some schools, teachers, & students won’t make the grade. But they all can be warm bodies in a bldg.

  18. The comments on the AJC article are retarded.

  19. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ?????? http://www.worksite90.com

  20. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.www.netcash5.com

  21. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netcash5.com

  22. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.worktoday7.com

  23. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……
    http://www.worktoday7.com

  24. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netcash5.com

  25. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.worktoday7.com

  26. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.worktoday7.com

Comments are closed.