Who Should Be Held Responsible?

By Samantha Richmond, CFCC Student Fellow 2012-2013

Every Wednesday afternoon, mentors, professors, and Student Fellows from the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts at the University of Baltimore School of Law meet to speak about our weekly Truancy Court Program (TCP) sessions. We discuss ways in which we can prevent truancy. Over the past few weeks, a question has been raised as to who is responsible for the students’ truant behavior. Should parents or teachers be held responsible for their students’ absenteeism and academic performance?

Parents are the ones caring for the children at home and making sure they attend school each morning, while teachers ensure that students learn at the appropriate grade level and are in class each day. If a teacher realizes that a student has been absent excessively, perhaps they should report that to a higher authority who could contact the student’s guardian. In our weekly meetings, some have argued that teachers should not be held responsible. Teachers should be concerned only with teaching the students who are present that day. I believe, however, that if parents do not encourage their children to attend school, the teacher is the next best person to look out for a student’s education and future.

In the New York Times article “Whose Failing Grade Is It?,” Lisa Belkin explains how several bills have been proposed in Florida that would punish parents when their children had excessive absences. Belkin believes that parents should be targeted for their child’s absences. By looking at schools that have success rates for students in both attendance and graduation, it is clear that parents are a contributing factor. Belkin suggests that schools with low success rates should focus on gaining parent involvement. One bill proposed in Florida requires parents to spend three hours volunteering throughout a semester at a school-related function. Based on my experience with the TCP, I do not believe parents would be willing to take three hours a semester to devote to their child’s school. We encourage parents to attend our ten minute session once a week to discuss their child’s truant behavior, and I have yet to have one parent attend one of my sessions. Another bill introduced in Florida has parents receiving a letter grade depicting the parent’s involvement that semester on their child’s report card. If parents are not interested from the start, I do not believe placing a grade on their child’s report card will change their mentality.

Parents are the best role models for students. Rather than punish parents, we need to find ways to instill in parents an interest in their child’s education. I do not believe we should have to force parents to play a role in their child’s education, but it should be something they choose to do. The TCP provides parents with that exact opportunity–the chance to meet with judges, mentors, school personnel, a social worker, and Student Fellows to provide the family with appropriate resources to ensure their child receives a proper education and has the opportunity to succeed in the future.

0 thoughts on “Who Should Be Held Responsible?

  1. I agree with you in reference to giving parents a letter grade. I do not think that it would help those parents who may receive a D or F. For those receiving good grades, it may encourage them to keep up the good work. But if they already do not care enough, as reflected by a low grade, I do not think that seeing a bad grade on their child's report card would get them to change their ways. I do not think, however, that teachers should be held responsible. I do agree though that it is important for them to report to someone if there are children who are consistently not coming/showing up late, but I don't think that they can be responsible – they have too much to worry about. But there should be someone at the school communicating these types of issues to the parents.

  2. I agree with you about giving parents a letter grade. Like Carly said, those receiving good grades might be encouraged to keep up the good work… but if they're involved enough to get a good grade in the first place, then I don't think they need the encouragement to keep doing what they're doing. Same goes for parents who get failing grades, they obviously don't care to be involved, and will continue to not be involved. This is why I think addressing children's behavior the way they do in TCP is so much better. We're not punishing them for the negatives, instead we're trying to find out why things are as bad as they are and trying to change that.

  3. I was reading this article in The Examiner the other day and I thought of your post. (Go here for the article– http://washingtonexaminer.com/dcps-refers-nearly-100-kids-to-child-protective-services/article/2513027 ). It seems that in DC as a measure to hold parents accountable, DC schools contact Child Protective Services for habitually truant students. DC Councilmen David Catania makes the point that parents should face serious consequences for their children's truancy and he analogizes it to neglect. While I understand his point and the point Belkin makes in her article, I'm just not sure these tactics will be effective. Rather than scare tactics like those in DC and punitive measures like those in Florida, we need to do more to motivate parents and guardians of truants to get involved. Furthermore, these tactics are only looking at one aspect of the truancy. I think programs like TCP that sit down with students and take a holistic approach to the problem are more likely to be effective in the long term.

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