A bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for the parents of truant children was passed out of the Senate Education Committee on a 6-1 vote Friday.
SB 45 – Compulsory Education Revisions is needed to help address inequities within the law, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Al Jackson (Republican – Highland). He believes that parents should not be penalized for taking children out of school. “Government should not be in the business of taking away people’s agency,” said Jackson.
During last year’s legislative session, Jackson proposed a bill, SB 295 Education Revisions, that would have done away with criminal penalties for parents of children who are absent without a valid excuse five or more times during the school year. The bill was introduced very late in the session and didn’t make it to a committee hearing or vote.
“Childhood education in this country has gone from private and optional to public and mandatory. Schools, in my opinion, were never intended and are not equipped to replace parents in their judgement. I feel that local control of education at the state, district, and neighborhood level is designed to ensure that schools remain an extension of the child’s parents at home, not a replacement for them. Unfortunately, it appears that Utah has moved away from that ideal,” Jackson told the committee.
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), the lone dissenting vote, cautioned against HB 45. He feels that abolishing truancy laws will negatively impact those in society who are most in need of such laws – the poor, the vulnerable, the underprivileged.
“I worry about parents that aren’t abusive, but they’re borderline. They’ve got some mental issues or they’ve got this, they’ve got that. They’ve got minimum wage. They’re pulling their hair out; they’ve got their own problems. Believe it or not, in the real world there are people like that in the state of Utah,” said Dabakis.
The bill now moves on to the full Senate for its consideration.