On Tuesday, May 10th the Senate unanimously approved legislation introduced by State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R, Montgomery, Bucks) to help prevent a parent from being jailed for failing to pay fines associated with their child’s truancy.
The legislation would require schools to offer a school attendance improvement conference to the student and their parents or guardian if the child continues to be truant following notification of the child’s third unexcused absence.
If a school attendance improvement conference is scheduled, further legal action is suspended until after the date of the conference has passed.
The legislation is in response to the death of a Reading woman while she was jailed for truancy charges in Berks County Prison. Eileen DiNino, a 55-year-old mother of seven, died of undetermined causes as she was serving a 48-hour sentence for not paying fines a magisterial district justice imposed following her sons’ absences from school.
Senator Greenleaf said, “Referring a truancy case to the court should be the last resort. I believe intervention is more appropriate than legal action and will result in better school attendance for children who have been truant.”
If the truancy plan does not result in the child’s regular attendance at school and the case is subsequently referred to a court, the judge may use the tools presently in the law (paying a fine, participating in an appropriate course or program (e.g., parenting education) or performing community service) but shall not sentence the parent to jail for failure to pay the fine. Under the bill, judges may only sentence a parent to jail up to two days if the parent willfully refuses to pay the fines and then refuses to complete community service.
“The purpose of these changes are to improve school attendance and deter truancy while making confinement of a parent a final option. We need to get at the cause of a child’s truancy and try to provide any services if necessary to ensure regular attendance and little disruption of their education,” said Greenleaf.
Contact: Aaron Zappia (215) 657-7700