Prosecutor proposes jail for parents who skip kids’ school conferences

Prosecutor wants to punish those who skip kids’ school conferences

(DET NEWS)   Detroit — Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is pushing for a law that calls for jail time for parents who skip parent-teacher conferences, a plan some call inspired and others consider the nanny state run amok.

Worthy pitched her plan Tuesday to the Detroit City Council and is shopping it to the Wayne County Commission and state Legislature. Drawing a link between parental involvement and youth crime, Worthy wants a sponsor to guide the idea to law.

Her plan would require parents to attend at least one conference per year or face three days in jail. Parents of those excelling in school would be exempt, as would those whose health issues make travel difficult and those “actively engaged” with teachers through e-mail, phone calls or letters.

“We have to find any means necessary to get parents involved,” Worthy told the council. “We have to start talking about prevention.

“Some children don’t have a chance the day they are born.”

Worthy staffers said the proposed law would be the first in the nation. She said she prefers a statewide law, but would start with a city or countywide one.

No legislation is pending in the state House, county commission or council, but the proposal is generating plenty of talk — and controversy.

Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox, R-Livonia, said Worthy’s intentions are admirable but the prospect of jailing parents is “inappropriate on a lot of levels.” A colleague, Kevin McNamara, D-Canton Township, said he feared a law would become a “tattletale version of pin the tail on the bad parent.”

“The question is, ‘How much government do I want in my life?'” McNamara said. “The reality is it would be an unenforceable mandate that we don’t have time to do.”

Daniel Lessard, a Livonia Public Schools board member, called the plan “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“You can’t legislate parental involvement,” he said. “If the law forces parents to go, what will it do other than fill up a room with parents who don’t want to be there?”

Worthy received a better reception before the council in Detroit, where school officials have complained about poor participation at parent-teacher conferences. Council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown said, “If you aren’t involved in your child’s education, and he or she is failing, it’s child abuse.”

Council President Charles Pugh said the proposed law would “send the right message.”

“We know at some point there has to be a line drawn and people held responsible,” Pugh said. “As lawmakers, we need to stop shaking our heads and look for opportunities to be bold but helpful.”

Councilwoman Brenda Jones, though, worried how jailing parents would “rehabilitate them and get them engaged in their children’s school.”

Worthy also pitched the idea last week before the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education, which is considering it, said Anthony Adams, board president.

“We clearly need to do something about encouraging parents to be more involved in their child’s education,” Adams said.

“I don’t necessarily agree we need to be punishing. We have to find a middle ground.”

Worthy said she realizes the idea is controversial but said she wants to start the conversation. She said her office would work with service groups to ensure prosecuted parents have resources to get more involved.

Teachers would work to accommodate parents’ schedules and the school would send reminders, Worthy said. Parents convicted under the law would have sentences delayed to give them another chance to attend the meetings. If they do, the case would be dismissed.

“You can shoot the messenger, but I don’t care as long as the message gets out,” Worthy said.

(313) 222-2306

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