Parents whose children regularly miss school can now be sentenced to PRISON under new Missouri law – with the mother facing 15 days in jail after her first grade son was absent for 13 days
- State Supreme Court Upholds Schools’ Discretion to Decide What ‘Reasonable’ Attendance Means
- A quarter of students in the state attend less than 90% of the time
More parents can expect to be jailed if their children miss school after a court upheld prison sentences for two mothers whose young children missed only two weeks in a year.
Moms Tamarae LaRue and Caitlyn Williams of Lebanon, Missouri, were put behind bars for failing to provide “regular” attendance for their six- and seven-year-old children.
And their appeal was dismissed Tuesday by the Missouri Supreme Court which insisted the state did not have to define what “regular” means.
“No parent in Missouri would conclude that ‘regular’ attendance means anything less than having their child attend school on days when school is in session,” Supreme Court Justice Robin Ransom said. .
The Leclade County mothers have been sued by the Lebanon II School District which requires at least 90% attendance.
Tamarae LaRue was sentenced to 13 days behind bars when the attendance of one of her four sons fell below what the school deemed acceptable
LaRue, 32, was sentenced to 13 days after her son missed 15 days of first grade, while Williams was jailed for seven days after her daughter missed 16 days of kindergarten.
Williams alerted staff on occasions including dental appointments, a bad cough and a bout of ringworm, and LaRue, a mother of three other boys, also notified her son’s school of certain absences for cause of illness.
But she started having panic attacks and fears of being bullied in a state where nearly a quarter of students were attending school at less than 90 per cent in 2021/22.
“I was busting my ass trying to make sure they had all the evidence they needed — all the doctor’s notes they needed — calling them to the eye doctor,” LaRue told the the wall street journal from the service station where she works.
Nearly 600 charges have been filed by state officials for violations of Missouri’s compulsory education law over the past five years.
Steve Jackson, the judge who jailed Williams in June 2022, admitted the law was a mess and said he hoped she would appeal.
“It’s absolutely a horrible law,” he told the court.
But the state Supreme Court left the law intact, arguing that mothers had been warned, opening the door to more jail time for parents.
Esther Elementary School sent a letter to Williams in November 2021 after her daughter’s sixth unexplained absence, telling her that was not the case.The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education states that students must have an attendance percentage of 90% or higher.
The assistant principal reportedly warned that the absences were affecting his daughter’s performance, and she was later charged with a “class C misdemeanor of violation of the Compulsory Attendance Act”.
The single mother was found guilty by the circuit court which sentenced her to seven days in the Laclede County Jail.
LaRue too was written out after six unexplained absences and later sentenced to 15 days in prison before her sentence was commuted to two years of probation.
“This absence was not excused by any circumstance provided for by law,” the court wrote.
“Given the notice provided to each parent and the fact that each parent was in control of their young child, there was evidence to support the conclusion that each parent knowingly failed to ensure that their child attended school regularly. “
“School attendance is crucial to a student’s academic, social and personal development,” said district spokeswoman Jacy Overstreet.
“Our first approach is to work collaboratively with students, their families and our dedicated staff members to identify the underlying reasons for absences.”