Published Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A group of parents who home-school their children found little support Tuesday for the changes they want in a truancy ordinance pending before the Lincoln City Council.
"You told me (previously) you had two minor things" to be changed, Neitzel told Brian Messner, one of about a dozen parents who attended a city council ordinance committee meeting. "You've redone the whole thing."
Bates said he is especially concerned with the home-school parents' desire to change the definition of a truant. All students - including those who are home-schooled and those enrolled in public or private schools - "are all subject to compulsory attendance," Bates said.
Students become truants, he said when they have an unexcused absence from attending class.
But according to the group's suggested definition, a student could not be labeled a truant unless he or she has been previously identified as such by Jean Anderson, superintendent of the Regional Office of Education, or by school administrators.
"We want an ordinance that targets truants," said Denlinger. "Truants are clearly identified. Let's go after them."
But he said parents also want an ordinance that "protects the freedom of responsible students."
Commenting today, Denlinger said the organized group of parents was frustrated by Tuesday's meeting, which, he added, was the first time members had the opportunity to meet with the entire city council ordinance committee.
"I feel we got slapped in the face," he said.
Denlinger said the group fears the ordinance will essentially be enforced as "a daytime curfew" on school-age children.
Home schooling, he said, is not required to follow traditional school hours. Because of parents' work schedules, the daily home schooling process often times is far removed from traditional class schedules.
"School might not kick in until in the evening," he said.
Denlinger and other parents fear the ordinance will encourage police officers to stop and question their children if they are seen in public places during the hours public school is routinely in session.
"That means paper routes can't start until 3 in the afternoon. Children can't go out and walk the dog" without risking being stopped by a police officer, he said.
Denlinger said the tone of Tuesday's meeting probably "characterized us as unreasonable people," which, he added, is simply not true.
"We just want a truancy ordinance that truly targets truants," he said.
Anderson, who said her office's three-county truancy program now includes 400 students, is supporting the council's proposed ordinance as written by Bates. In fact, the ordinance notes that Anderson's office and "various school officials" had requested the council adopt the measure. It also states the Illinois School Code and Juvenile Court Act procedures on truancy matters are "time consuming and expensive and have proven to be ineffective in stemming the tide of truancy in the schools within the city."
"We don't wait 18 days," Anderson said. "We send out letters after five days."
A second letter is sent when a student continues to accumulate unexcused absences - around eight to 10, Anderson said - and finally, if the problem persists, students and parents are summoned to a hearing before a truancy review board.
"We aren't waiting for a child to be deemed a truant," Anderson said.
Bates, responding to the home-school parents group, said the city's ordinance "is not something that came up overnight." He said he used the city of Rockford's highly praised ordinance on truancy as a model for the Lincoln proposal.
Bates' ordinance also establishes penalties, including fines and court-mandated community service work, for violators. Parents of truant children younger than 10 would be liable and subject to the ordinance's penalties.
Neitzel recommended the council approve Bates' ordinance with none of the home-school parents' suggestions included. She did follow Anderson's sole suggestion - to expand the list of officials who can issue truancy citations to include a truancy caseworker from Lincoln Community High School.
Others with the authority to issue citations would be city police officers and truancy caseworkers from Anderson's office.
The council could vote on the measure at its meeting Monday.