When your child refuses to go to school and you think you’re too exhausted to fight about it, you might want to reconsider, especially if you live in Illinois.
A new Illinois law has cut the amount of days in half that students can rack up unexcused absences from school before they are considered chronic truants, and parents can face possible jail time and court fines.
Instead of waiting until students miss 18 unexcused days, or 10 percent of the 180-day school year, the law now says students can miss nine unexcused days before their truancy can be considered a crime, said Clayton Naylor, assistant to the superintendent at the Rock Island Regional Office of Education.
“Truancy is going to go up
dramatically,” he said. “That’s one of the things that shows up on a school’s report card, and we don’t know what impact it will have on families.”
Rock Island County’s two truant officers expect to double their caseloads this school year because of the law, which quietly went into effect July 28, they said.
Barry Sumpter and Jillian VanOpdorp said they handled nearly 700 truancy case referrals from the county’s 10 school districts last school year. They are bracing themselves for at least 1,400 this year, they said.
They didn’t know about the change until after it became law. They doubt many parents know about the change, but they will soon enough if their children miss several days of school, they said.
Truant officers used to get referrals from schools when a student reached 10 to 12 unexcused absences, starting a chain of events that includes making contact with parents and trying to help solve the child’s truancy problem before it progresses to taking the parents to court.
With the new law, they now expect schools to contact them when students miss seven or eight days of school without an excuse. Sumpter already had his first appointment of the school year, meeting with parents about their truant student just last week, he said.
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If the student’s attendance problems continue, the truant officers can call parents to an administrative hearing with the regional superintendent or allow it to progress to the state’s attorney’s office. Parents then can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor because chronic truancy is “a type of child neglect,” Sumpter said.
If an Illinois parent is found guilty, he or she could face up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine, he said.
East Moline parent Lisa Lambrecht, 42, said she didn’t know about the law’s new stricter rules and suspects few others do. Lambrecht and her husband had a tough enough time under the old law last school year, when their 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter were chronically truant.
She was too busy working two jobs, feeling overwhelmed and sick, to do much about it at the time, she admitted. Both parents ended up going to court over their children’s absences, and her husband spent a night in jail. They were fined $50 each, she said.
This school year, things are much better in their household. Both children are going to school, she said.
“But they’re going to have a lot more parents in the courts,” she said. “There are things that happen that are out of our control, and they still hold it against us. Nine days? That’s just … I mean, adults miss that many days at work.”