KC truancy measure stalls amid opposition from parents and children

Despite pleas from the Kansas City school district and police, a City Council committee on Wednesday delayed for a month any vote on a new measure to combat truancy.

Members of the council’s Public Safety Committee said they were not yet ready to support a proposal to strengthen local laws against chronic truants and their parents. While Kansas City and Hickman Mills school officials had said it would help them deal with serious discipline and attendance problems, dozens of home school parents and children turned out to oppose the proposal.

Councilman Scott Wagner originally had introduced his measure as a daytime curfew law to deter children ages 7 to 16 from loitering unsupervised during school hours. The measure debated today removed language about a daytime curfew but still emphasized the importance of school attendance and included possible penalties for parents violating that responsibility.

Wagner told the committee that, under state law, it’s tough proving parents “knowingly” allowed their children to skip school. He said the city law would allow police to ticket parents, requiring counseling and parenting classes and possible fines.

“We do have students that are chronic truants and some parents we need help in holding accountable,” Kansas City School Board member Crispin Rea told the committee.

Maj. Ron Fletcher, of Kansas City’s East Patrol division, said that in a sweep of truant kids last fall, one parent was extremely belligerent toward the officers, and other parents didn’t even know their young children were skipping school.

“It will encourage parents to be engaged,” he said.

But committee member Michael Brooks said he wanted to see more intervention programs from the Kansas City public schools, such as alternative schools and social workers, before the city adopts a potentially punitive approach.

Numerous home school families also worried that police could stop their children just for going to a library or museum unattended.

Wagner said the measure specifically guards against abuse of home schoolers. He said he plans to schedule more meetings between school officials and council members to convince his colleagues that his measure has merit.