Legislators were told Monday that Las Vegas-area schools are too understaffed to even punish the most badly behaved students with detention - so their parents should be hit with fines.
Sens. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, and Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, told the Senate Human Resources and Education committee their SB245 would reduce the number of students needing detention. Woodhouse added that the amount of the fines hasn't been finalized, but $20 per student per offense wouldn't be excessive.
Nolan expressed hope that after two or three fines, the parents of such students would convince their children to change their poor behavior.
Parents of problem students often come into parent-teacher conferences with a hostile attitude, he added.
"They don't appreciate being summoned, and don't appreciate the magnitude of the problem," said Nolan. "Maybe we get their parents' attention, if by no other way, then by hitting them in the pocketbook."
According to Nolan, most schools in the Las Vegas area don't have detention anymore because they can't afford it. The district is short almost 400 teachers, and has asked the Legislature for $7 million over a two-year period to staff detentions, he said.
In-class detention is far superior to removing repeat offenders from school, said Woodhouse, a career educator.
"Put him somewhere where that student is under supervision, is working on classroom assignments, is doing research, things like that, so that they are still learning, and then can come back to the classroom," said Woodhouse.
Lobbyists for Clark and Washoe County school districts, the state's largest, supported the proposal. A lobbyist for the ACLU opposed the bill, saying that education is a fundamental right and imposing fines was the wrong approach.
Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also criticized the bill, saying that often detention or "in-house suspension" is imposed for relatively minor infractions.
"We have kids that go in in-house suspension because they're a few minutes late to a class, (or) they interrupted the teacher during classroom instruction," said Horsford. "There's some real broad discretion to when students can be placed in in-house suspension. I think this is about trying to fund something that the school districts chose not to fund based on priorities in their budget."
The bill also would change rules regarding truancy. Currently, students are allowed 10 days of excused absences before it affects their credits earned. SB245 would deduct one of those allowed absences for each day the student was truant.
Horsford questioned that part of the bill, too, saying it didn't get at the real problems driving truancy.
"There are reasons those kids are truant, and we need to get at those reasons," he said. "Taking another day from them isn't going to make them feel more engaged in learning."