Parents could soon face fines or jail time if their kids miss school without an excuse.
There’s already a state law on the books, but the Tulsa City Council will vote next week on an ordinance that’s tougher on truancy.
The ordinance would apply to all schools within Tulsa city limits. This would include Tulsa, Union, some of Jenks schools, and any other public schools inside city limits.
Under the current truancy law, a child is dropped from school if they have 10 unexcused absences and, at that point, parents are ordered to truancy court.
This new ordinance would be stricter and could land parents in court much sooner.
“I’m a working mom, a single mom of three,” said Fela Arrazola. “There are a lot of times that one or the other misses the bus…and I can’t get off of work to go pick him up and take him to school.”
Arrazola says between juggling a job and three kids who have been sick too many times to count, she knows truancy court all too well.
“We had to go to court, we had to hire an attorney, we had to miss work,” said Arrazola.
For a first conviction, state law provides for up to a $50 fine.
If the city ordinance passes, parents/guardians could face a $500 per day fine and up to six months of jail time.
City Councilor Karen Gilbert says, “we don’t want to throw people in jail. We don’t want to put parents in jail and separate them from their children.”
Gilbert says she wants students to get a diploma.
The latest graduation rate for TPS was 72.5%. More than a quarter of students were chronically absent.
Marq Lewis, of We The People Oklahoma, asks “if it’s not about jail, then why would you include it in the ordinance?”
Opponents are worried it’ll target low-income families who are already struggling.
“We even have parents who say ‘my child has ran away,’” said Lewis. “We also have parents who say, you know, ‘Tulsa Behavioral Health can’t take my child.’”
Gilbert says the truancy court would add wrap-around services to help families.
“We can help them get the kids in school and make kids more successful,” stated Gilbert.
But Arrazola says punishing parents isn’t the answer. She says, “I think all it really is causing is more burden to the families.”
The court could add on conditions for parents – like taking the child to school or the bust stop or getting evaluated for substance abuse.
The ordinance is modeled after a similar one in Oklahoma City.
A vote is set for next Wednesday at the 5:00 p.m. city council meeting.