Can law force them to care?
Is it possible to write a law that makes a parent care about a child, or a child care about the parent?
And in the case of truancy, can the law make either one of them care about school?
Two cases in Carson City have drawn considerable attention. Mothers have been prosecuted and sentenced because their children wouldn’t go to school, the first cases to go to court under a 1997 Nevada law.
Both children are classified as “habitual truants,” although that hardly describes their commitment to being absent. One 13-year-old girl missed 103 days; the other missed 59.
Now, Mari Jo Bailey, mother of the 13-year-old, will got to jail for two days. The other mother, Nancy Ann Winn, is under a suspended sentence that says if her daughter has another unexcused absence, Winn goes to jail.
The two women, both in their 40s, have been made examples of the crackdown on truancy. The publicity accompanying their cases has sent the message that Nevada is serious about keeping kids in school.
Certainly, it has gotten the attention of these two familes. But one has to wonder how strong is the relationship that allows a child to roam for 103 days.
In her defense, Bailey and her daughter testified as to the lengths the 13-year-old would go to deceive the mother. A single parent with five children, Bailey would drop off her daughter and school. The girl would walk in, turn around and leave. She would return just in time to give the impression to her mother that she had been there all day.
We can imagine this happening once, twice. But by the third time – the law’s definition of an habitual truant – stronger measures are required. One hundred and three times? That’s ridiculous.
We hope some students and many parents get the message that truancy won’t be tolerated.
We suspect in some cases, though, that the parents still won’t care if their child is in school. And the child won’t carry much that Mom or Dad is headed for jail.