Everyone knows it can be hard to get kids out the door and to school each morning. But when the bell rings, children are supposed to be in class ready to learn. So what’s a school to do if a child is repeatedly late — even if it’s only by a minute or two? One local county is bringing criminal charges against the parents of repeatedly tardy students. We explore why they’ve taken this approach, and ask whether it makes sense or whether it goes too far.

Guests

  • William Bosher Executive Director, Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University; former teacher, principal, local superintendent, and Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Janice D'Arcy reporter, The Washington Post; 'On Parenting' blogger

Transcript

  • 12:08:11

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Getting up when the alarm goes off on a Monday morning can be tough. But with the extra challenge of getting kids dressed, fed and out the door before 8 a.m., it's even more daunting. For thousands of families in our area, this is the morning routine.

  • 12:08:46

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIMost students get to their desks on time. But is it a crime if a child arrives a little late? What if you're tardy 10 times, 20 times? How about 30? One Loudon County couple has been charged with three misdemeanors and face up to $1,500 in fines for bringing their three children to school late almost 30 times since September. Their case, and others like it, has renewed a debate over whether schools are cracking down too harshly on seemingly minor offenses.

  • 12:09:15

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISo where is the happy medium between lax parenting and overzealous crackdowns? Joining us in studio now is Janice D'Arcy, journalist and author of the "On Parenting" blog of The Washington Post. Janice is also the mother of two children. Janice D'Arcy, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:09:32

    MS. JANICE D'ARCYThanks for having me.

  • 12:09:34

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. It's my understanding that virtually everybody has an opinion on this. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us email to kojo@wamu.org, or a tweet, @kojoshow. Did your kids beat the bell this morning? Do you have a problem getting your kids to school on time, and if so, why? 800-433-8850.

  • 12:10:02

    NNAMDIJanice, the case of the Loudon County couple facing criminal charges over their kids' habitual tardiness has lit up the blogosphere. What is it that has -- that seems to have parents so incensed?

  • 12:10:14

    D'ARCYIt strikes me -- it's very surprising to me, some of these reactions. When we were first working on the story, I assumed the natural reaction was going to be that Loudon was defying common sense by sending parents to the criminal justice system for tardiness.

  • 12:10:34

    NNAMDIBad, bad Loudon, you thought.

  • 12:10:37

    D'ARCYBut, actually, so many of the reactions were from other parents, not late parents, who were happy that the school system was finally standing up to chronically tardy parents who were getting their kids to school late frequently.

  • 12:10:57

    NNAMDIWell, I'll start off with some posts we already have on Facebook. Before we even started the show on Facebook, Brenda writes, "Holding the parents criminally responsible is pointless and a waste of money. Why not spend tax dollars on positive reinforcement and resources to help parents and students get to school on time? Why are we so obsessed with punishment as a means of education?"

  • 12:11:20

    NNAMDITricia, also on Facebook, says, "The kids in this Loudon County story were late many times, and the parents' response was, 'We're not perfect.' Perhaps a visit from a social worker would get to the bottom of what's happening in that house." We did invite representatives from Loudon County schools to join us for this conversation, but they declined. Speaking of Tricia's Facebook posting, Janice, could you explain for us the -- your understanding of Loudon County's protocol in -- for handling students who are habitually tardy?

  • 12:11:54

    D'ARCYAnd you're right. It is protocol because the policy that Loudon County uses is actually a very common policy, but it's the interpretation of that policy that's different in Loudon. What happens is if a parent is late a certain amount of times, it's up to the principal to decide how many times. The principal then will refer their case to a truancy officer. Then the truancy officer has some discretion, but the truancy officer can decide that the parents are not cooperative and then, in turn, refers the case to a family court.

  • 12:12:32

    D'ARCYAnd then the family court can issue a summons -- usually, it does -- and a court summons. And then the parents face a possible fine. In one case, a parent is actually facing jail time.

  • 12:12:46

    NNAMDIReally?

  • 12:12:47

    D'ARCYYes.

  • 12:12:48

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you think schools should do when parents break the rules? In this situation, we have to assume, because no school officials would agree to join us for the conversation, that apparently a truancy officer did decide that the parents here were uncooperative. I guess we have to assume that.

  • 12:13:08

    D'ARCYRight. And what the school system says is it's out of our hands. Once we turn it over to a truancy officer, we're not bringing the parents to court. We're not arresting anyone. We have turned it over to them, and they are making the call. And in these cases, we're talking about the two families that we focused in on. We're talking about very frequent, frequent violations.

  • 12:13:34

    NNAMDIThirty times between September...

  • 12:13:36

    D'ARCYThirty times.

  • 12:13:36

    NNAMDI...and now. That's a lot.

  • 12:13:38

    D'ARCYAnd apparently in the past two years, the same family, it's about 150 times. So it's a lot.

  • 12:13:45

    NNAMDIOK. Well...

  • 12:13:45

    D'ARCYStill, to go to the criminal justice system is a pretty extreme measure.

  • 12:13:49

    NNAMDIThat's what some people seem to feel. But here's the question that apparently really gets people fired up: What does chronic lateness say about what's going on at home? Are we simply talking about frazzled parents who can't get their act together in time, or is something more going on?

  • 12:14:05

    D'ARCYThat's a really good question because what some people say is, when you look at the truancy laws that are on the books, these laws are intended for child welfare, to make sure the kids are getting to school, that there's nothing out of the ordinary going on at home. The tardiness that we're talking about in Loudon County is getting there just minutes late. The bell rings, and they show up 30 seconds late. It's counted as a tardy.

  • 12:14:32

    D'ARCYSo we're talking about two different cases here in terms of, you know, chronic absences and just missing the bell. I think the parents have said that we're just talking about being frazzled in the morning. Both the families that we focused in on have three children -- actually, one has four children -- I have two children, and I know how frazzled we are in the morning. So I can't imagine adding more to that mix.

  • 12:14:59

    NNAMDII was a single parent with two sons who were in elementary school. In a way, fortunately for me, there were members of what was then called the school patrol. It was their job in the morning to help others cross the street. And so they had to get up particularly early in order to get to school, so they were always on time 'cause they had to be on time for the school patrol. I don't even know if they have kids doing school patrol anymore.

  • 12:15:23

    NNAMDII only see adults who -- for whom it seems to be a full-time job helping people cross the streets these days. However, we'd be interested in hearing your comments, 800-433-8850. We'll go to Jean in Baltimore County, Md. Jean, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:39

    JEANThank you for talking to me, Kojo Nnamdi. I'm calling from a school system in Maryland, and I'm not going to name the school system. But I have worked with and talked to many a parent and tried to work with them as far as getting their kids to school on time or to get them to school, period. And I try to explain to parents, because I've been in the classroom and watched these children of all ages show up 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes late, and the -- when you think about, you know, oh, it's just a minutes late, or it's just, you know, we're having a hard time getting to school.

  • 12:16:21

    JEANFor these parents who are chronically truant, their children, repeatedly, are showing up into a classroom, and they're disrupting the room. They're disrupting all of our -- all of their peers trying to get themselves settled. The teacher has to stop what they're doing, help them get on board. I've seen the looks on these kids' faces. They're mortified. They don't know what's going on.

  • 12:16:44

    JEANThey're behind 10, 15 minutes, trying to get caught up. And the excuses I get from parents are -- you know, are just not -- quite often are not legitimate. And the school systems that I've worked for, when we wind up taking the kids to court, it's because we've done everything else we possibly could to resolve a problem. And it doesn't get resolved, and the children are falling further and further behind their peers. And the idea is to look in the best interest of the children, and getting them late to school is not in their best interest.

  • 12:17:23

    NNAMDIWell, as a truant officer yourself, what does it mean when you say you find the parents uncooperative?

  • 12:17:32

    JEANWe try to offer -- put incentives in place. We, you know, bring it to their attention. We've offered supports for, you know, maybe counseling supports, in-home supports, incentives for the children when we find that the children, it may not be in their control or it might be in their control (unintelligible) incentives, can we have it in school, how can we work together? And the problem continues, and it continues, and it continues.

  • 12:18:07

    NNAMDISo you go through all of that before you turn it over to the courts?

  • 12:18:12

    JEANAbsolutely. I wouldn't take anything to the court unless I've done everything I possibly could to get that child to school on time consistently.

  • 12:18:21

    NNAMDIJean, thank you...

  • 12:18:21

    JEANNot just on time, but -- and I don't ever -- you know, very few of us take them to court for truancy -- for tardiness unless it starts to add up over time and there's also an absenteeism problem.

  • 12:18:37

    NNAMDIOK, Jean, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:18:39

    JEANSure.

  • 12:18:40

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Janice D'Arcy. She is a journalist and author of the "On Parenting" blog at The Washington Post. She's also the mother of two children. And we're talking about punishing tardy students and their parents. Janice, The Washington Post reported that the Loudon County Sheriff's Department serves court summons to an average of two to three parents per month. What other stories have you been hearing about in our area?

  • 12:19:05

    D'ARCYWell, that is attendance violations. That's not just for tardiness. So you're also talking about truancy there. I think it's still pretty rare that parents are going to court on this.

  • 12:19:17

    NNAMDIOn lateness?

  • 12:19:18

    D'ARCYYes, mm hmm.

  • 12:19:19

    NNAMDIOK. Then on to Hassan in Woodbridge, Va. Hassan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:27

    HASSANHi, sir. Thank you so much for your show and thank you for taking my call.

  • 12:19:31

    NNAMDIGo ahead.

  • 12:19:31

    HASSANI teach -- I taught abroad and here at different levels. And the problem of tardiness is really, really key issue, one, for the students. A student who comes, like, twice a week tardy, for example, are going to be behind. The first thing they do is to go complain to the administrator. They never said they were late. They never said that they were absent. But they would always go and say, well, I'm getting a C because the teacher is going fast in the school. And I am teaching as I (word?). I mean, not now, but I just finished class.

  • 12:20:04

    HASSANSo I have this problem myself. I do not know -- I always try to encourage a student to at least go and do the work and give them an extra copy instead of punishing them or sending them to the administrator. I didn't find it really productive at all. And unless they agree to basically wipe tardiness type of thing or absence and so forth, then you can come back. And I taught at the university level. I taught French...

  • 12:20:32

    NNAMDIWell, yes.

  • 12:20:33

    HASSANI had the same problem. I taught Arabic. I had the same problem. I taught world politics. I had the same problem, so it is not -- I wish it were only Loudoun County or any given county issue. It is really a general issue, and we have to find the proper answer. And punishment is not one them, believe me, because we want to (unintelligible).

  • 12:20:50

    NNAMDII was about to ask that, Hassan, 'cause I was saying, OK, we feel your pain, but what would you recommend as a solution to this problem, if not, any form of punishment?

  • 12:21:02

    HASSANNo. For me, I think, the punishment for me is really to give the student (unintelligible) extra homework, and hopefully they do it. And if they don't it, they give them another one. So it's basically by getting them tired basically that them being absent or tardy is not going to pay the bills. As an educator, I try to basically make sure that the students are aware that work has to be done. Somebody has to do it, not -- certainly not me, but the student himself (unintelligible).

  • 12:21:29

    NNAMDISo you think giving them extra work to do would be about -- and...

  • 12:21:33

    HASSANExtra work, but it's really not to punish them, but really to tell, for example, why did -- you were absent. You now try to do some extra work and in a very nice, negotiable manner. I need to check with them, like, and you go check with the (word?).

  • 12:21:46

    NNAMDIOK, Hassan, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:21:49

    HASSANThank you. Thank you so much.

  • 12:21:50

    NNAMDIAnd I get the impression that, Janice, that when he was experiencing this in college, Hassan probably said, I bet you they started in elementary school when they had this problem.

  • 12:21:58

    NNAMDIBut what kinds of suggestions that you have been hearing from people that could be alternatives to punishment?

  • 12:22:03

    D'ARCYThere are some really interesting ways that schools and teachers themselves try to confront this, and one thing to remember when we talk about it is to remember the age group we're talking about.

  • 12:22:12

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 12:22:13

    D'ARCYIt's really young kids.

  • 12:22:14

    NNAMDIAre these kids, what, six, seven, nine? In case you're one of the parents that...

  • 12:22:17

    D'ARCYFive -- four, five, six, kids who are completely dependent on their parents because schools have to figure out how to address this for the parents. When the kids get a little older, then they can start introducing detentions and disincentives for children. But you can't really do that to 5- and 6-year olds. It's not too fair to hold them accountable for their parents not getting to school on time.

  • 12:22:41

    D'ARCYSo what some school systems have done, I read about one where the parents are made to clean the gym on the weekends if they get a certain amount of tardiness. I don't think they'd have a tardiness problem.

  • 12:22:55

    NNAMDIThey clean the gym on the weekends. 800-433-8850, what do you think schools should do when parents break the rules? Do you think repeated school tardiness should be treated like a crime? 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to kojo@wamu.org. To what extent were you finding people who were communicating with you, who were in sympathy with the parents here because, like you, they have young children and they know how difficult it is to get them off in the morning sometimes?

  • 12:23:32

    NNAMDIDo they suggest any tips, any possible ways to make sure you can get out early?

  • 12:23:38

    D'ARCYYes. There are some good tips on that.

  • 12:23:41

    NNAMDIWake up earlier.

  • 12:23:43

    D'ARCYBasically. But in terms of the sympathy, there wasn't very much, Kojo. I was surprised. I wrote a blog today for "On Parenting" about my own sympathies because I tend to be in the camp of chronically late, and I know I'm going to get a fierce reaction for admitting that. But something that helped me is, a few months ago, when school started, I knew this was going to be a problem for my family, so for the blog, I reached out to a local woman who helps families organize their lives.

  • 12:24:17

    D'ARCYShe calls herself a life stylist. Her name is Rachel Strisik. And she gave some great advice on preparing for the morning. Her main advice is prepare the night before. Really, get everybody -- I don't know what you did with your boys and their patrol, but...

  • 12:24:32

    NNAMDINight before...

  • 12:24:32

    D'ARCYYeah, you have -- each kid has a basket. You get them to put what they need in the basket.

  • 12:24:39

    NNAMDIClothes have to be laid out the night before.

  • 12:24:40

    D'ARCYExactly.

  • 12:24:41

    NNAMDIEverything has to be prepared.

  • 12:24:41

    D'ARCYShe even suggested menus, the breakfast menu, just getting everything ready to go because in the morning, so many of us are groggy. We miss the alarm. There's so many distractions in the morning.

  • 12:24:52

    NNAMDIIt's too cold. Who wants to get out of bed when it's this cold? It's particularly different in these months. And then in the summer, they have it off, so you don't have that issue in the summertime. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will be continuing our conversation on punishing tardy students and their parents and inviting your calls, 800-433-8850. Were your parents perpetually late when you were a kid? How has that affected you as an adult? 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:35:33

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about punishing tardy students and their parents, as has been occurring in some counties. We're talking today, more specifically, about Loudoun County. I'm taking your calls at 800-433-8850. In studio with us is Janice D'Arcy, journalist and author of the "On Parenting" blog at The Washington Post. She's also the mother of two children.

  • 12:35:57

    NNAMDIAnd joining us now by telephone from Richmond, Va., is William Bosher, dean of the school of education at Virginia Commonwealth University and executive director of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute. William Bosher was -- is a former state superintendent in Virginia. Bill Bosher, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:36:16

    DR. WILLIAM BOSHERThanks, Kojo. Good to be with you.

  • 12:36:19

    NNAMDIThank you. As I've said before, thank you for joining us. I wanted to talk a little bit about our expectations for children when it comes to schoolwork. Do kids feel a lot of pressure that comes without enough guidance?

  • 12:36:33

    BOSHERWell, they -- the relationship is, you know, the home, the school and the young person. If the three are working together, things can be rather successful, if they're not, if any piece is missing, then things can be more difficult. And we are in an age of accountability, of high accountability, and so that brings more pressure on everyone. But I think the particular issue that you're doing -- that you're dealing with now, of course, attendance and tardiness, if you don't get there, nothing else happens.

  • 12:37:04

    BOSHERAnd so people are really reaching out to ask for help. I don't think that punishment has ever helped anyone to attend. But at times, frustration says we need some help, and I think that's what you're getting in the Loudoun case.

  • 12:37:18

    NNAMDIThere's been a local push in Fairfax County to get administrators to push back school start times, which can be as early as 7:20 in the morning in Fairfax middle and in high schools. What's the current thinking on pushing back start times? Have you been hearing anything about this, Janice D'Arcy?

  • 12:37:34

    D'ARCYYeah.

  • 12:37:34

    BOSHERYou know...

  • 12:37:35

    D'ARCYI'll just jump in. Yeah, this is a big debate, especially when you're talking about middle and high schools. Those kids -- all that new research comes out all the time about how much sleep they need. And these earlier start times just aren't working for a lot of kids through the day. They're getting there groggy. They're not up for learning when they're not getting enough sleep, so that's a nationwide push to try to get start times that are more realistic for these kids.

  • 12:38:05

    NNAMDIBill Bosher, do we know if later start times can have a positive effect when it comes to tardiness?

  • 12:38:10

    BOSHERWell, yes. And, Kojo, may I -- would Janice respond to the earlier question?

  • 12:38:15

    NNAMDISure.

  • 12:38:16

    BOSHERBecause, it's interesting, I was a superintendent in two districts, one with 40,000 and another with 60,000. One had early starts, and the other one wanted it and the inverse of the former. I had 16,000 survey responses to changing the time, and the reality is I'd love to tell you that it's about children and curriculum. It tends to be about change and convenience. Each time, whether we were talking about going earlier or going later, the policies tended to be pushed back because people had become very accustomed to whatever they had and didn't want it to change.

  • 12:38:55

    BOSHERI think Janice's comment -- there's some compelling research, though, about time. And, I mean, an illustration -- the worst time for a young person to take Algebra Two is probably about three o'clock in the afternoon. But, yeah, this is -- that's a tough issue.

  • 12:39:12

    D'ARCYAnd...

  • 12:39:13

    NNAMDIThe worst -- I got to step into that one. The worst time to take algebra is three o'clock in the afternoon?

  • 12:39:21

    BOSHERWell, I'm sure there are times that are even worse.

  • 12:39:23

    NNAMDIOh, for me, it was...

  • 12:39:24

    D'ARCYIs there a good time?

  • 12:39:25

    NNAMDII was about to say, for me, it was anytime between start of school and end of school.

  • 12:39:28

    BOSHERI don't believe that, Kojo. But, yeah, very candidly, the -- as the day goes on, I was in one district where the high schoolers started at 7:15, and so they were pretty much finishing their day about two o'clock. In the second district, the elementary schools started about 8:15, and then the high schools tended to follow. But I think everyone says that morning is the best time, and if we could cram all of it in then at every level, we'd be better off.

  • 12:40:04

    NNAMDILet me underscore my earlier remark by saying doing math is good at any time of day in school.

  • 12:40:16

    NNAMDIBill Bosher, how common are these seemingly extreme measures like the one we're talking about in Loudon County?

  • 12:40:23

    BOSHERWell, in Loudon County, not unlike the rest of Virginia and the region. Even the state legislators have tried to jump into the issue of attendance down to the level of tardy. And when you have superintendents and principals and teachers who are struggling with how to resolve it, the reaching out to court -- and Loudon County is a part Fairfax County, both a part of a -- they also have a forum where superintendents and judges, juvenile judges meet on a regular basis. And this is one of the toughest issues for them.

  • 12:41:01

    BOSHERI think that you're finding more instances where we might think going to court is a pretty onerous thing. In reality, you're saying that schools are asking the courts and other services to enjoin with them to bring more pressure with families and young people to comply. And it starts with attendance.

  • 12:41:25

    NNAMDIHere is Steve in -- on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:41:31

    STEVEHi, Kojo. I'm a former juvenile domestic relations judge from Virginia and have moved over to the Eastern Shore. But a couple of things that I thought I'd just throw in. Number one, the issue of truancy really goes back to early childhood education and children arriving at school, many of them or too many of them not able to read or only largely able to read. And that, to me, is a community involvement issue that really needs to be stressed.

  • 12:42:04

    STEVEAlexandria, Va., for instance, developed a program called the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium that helped the children who were behind when they arrived to kindergarten to -- with their reading. It was a faith community initiative. There's a program called the Imagination Library that Dolly Parton started 10 years or more ago that gets books into the hands of children from zero to five. Also, there's -- there are many kinds of initiatives.

  • 12:42:37

    STEVEAnother, PNC bank has a program called Grow Up Great where they're trying to get early childhood education going in communities. The other point I'd like to make is that the court system is just not the answer to these problems. The person that you hade there, was speaking earlier about locking kids up, I wouldn't lock kids up for missing school. I mean, am I going to put a child who is missing school in a detention home with a kid who's charged with robbery or murder or rape or something like that?

  • 12:43:10

    NNAMDIWell, I don't think anybody's really advocating that. But how about the notion of parents having to go to court and being fined? What do you think about that?

  • 12:43:20

    STEVEWell, fines are -- you know, but the people -- most of the people that we dealt with, the fine -- I mean, if there was a fine, they wouldn't be able to pay it. I tried to create a system, not unlike what was suggested earlier about cleaning the gym on weekends, of making parents of younger children who are truant go into the classroom and be in the classroom with the child to try to help them understand the value of learning.

  • 12:43:47

    NNAMDIWell, let me ask Bill Bosher because Steve was a juvie judge in Virginia, Bill Bosher. Does Virginia have a statewide policy on how to deal with tardiness?

  • 12:43:58

    BOSHERNo, sir. Judge, good to hear you. You probably remember when I worked with chief Justice Carrico to bring juvenile judges and superintendents together. I also remember our...

  • 12:44:08

    STEVERight. Yep.

  • 12:44:08

    BOSHER...first meeting day. You sat on opposite sides of the table from each other, and one said -- superintendent said you guys are not so bad when you don't have those robes on. And one of you said, and you guys are not so cantankerous when you're not in the superintendent seat.

  • 12:44:27

    BOSHERBut we -- Virginia has guidelines. That's -- if you go to the Virginia Department of Education, you'll see guidelines for a number of things related to attendance. Tardy is one, but there is no statewide policy that directs school divisions to take any specific approach.

  • 12:44:48

    NNAMDISteve, thank you very much...

  • 12:44:48

    STEVENow, what I'd wind up…

  • 12:44:50

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Steve.

  • 12:44:51

    STEVEI'd wind up getting cases of, you know, kids who were truant that had 10, 20, 30 absences. And I'd get them in April. And I'm going, now, what am I supposed to do with this case? By the time it's adjudicated, it's June, and the schools are away on summer vacation. One of the policies is -- they're going to institute a policy, is that they really need to bring these cases early in the school year so that there can -- you know, something can be done.

  • 12:45:22

    STEVEThe other thing is that, with many of these cases, the Court Service Unit in Virginia deals with these cases in trying to provide services before the cases are brought, number one. And, number two, under Virginia law, in order for the school system to bring a CHINS case, a child in need of services or supervision, they really have to show the court that they have done everything they can to try to ameliorate the situation before asking the court to do something.

  • 12:45:54

    NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. Janice, is this something that you've been looking at also? Have you gone to any of these court cases at all?

  • 12:46:00

    D'ARCYI haven't. But a few of our reporters, Emma Brown and Petula Dvorak, who's a columnist at The Post, they've both been there. And one thing I want to -- I just want to differentiate here. What we're talking about in Loudon, the stories that have drawn such an interesting reaction, are about families who are getting their kids to school, and they're not having truancy issues. As a matter of fact, one of the families, who's -- their next court date is in March, their kids get As. The kids are doing fine.

  • 12:46:36

    D'ARCYWe're talking about missing the bell by just a couple of minutes. And I think why we've gotten the reaction we've gotten from so many readers -- here, on Kojo's show, you're getting such a strong reaction -- it's -- these parents don't realize that just missing a bell by a couple of minutes affects all the other kids. And the teachers say this really is a problem. You know, truancy and absence is a major problem, and that's child welfare. This is a much more minor one that hasn't been addressed in a way where parents are getting it.

  • 12:47:07

    NNAMDIIndeed. Bill Bosher, it's my understanding that you say that even defining tardiness is tough because it's simply often in the teacher's hands.

  • 12:47:17

    BOSHERWell, Kojo, the problem has been at the teacher level, that weird Harold comes in 30 seconds late, and you nail him. And, you know, the president of student government comes in 10 minutes late, and he or she was working on a project and gets a by. And so while we can fall into the traps of some of the zero-tolerance approaches, which lack common sense, I think in schools, there is a search to find some consistency.

  • 12:47:48

    BOSHERAnd, Janice, your comment about -- 'cause I clearly understand what you're saying -- but I think when you reach the point of going to court, it's far more than being late for class by a couple minutes. This has been an ongoing behavior that...

  • 12:48:04

    D'ARCYYes.

  • 12:48:05

    BOSHER...pulling families in with the school has not been resolved. And so, for me, it is a -- suspension, even, was a constant cry for help. It rarely changed anybody's behavior. And the most ridiculous suspension was to kick somebody out for being absent. You gave them a letter to do that they want to do anyway.

  • 12:48:27

    D'ARCYAnd, speaking of ridiculous suspensions, there was a story today The Post did, Donna St. George, on suspensions of elementary school kids in the region.

  • 12:48:36

    NNAMDIAs young as 4 years old.

  • 12:48:37

    D'ARCYUnbelievable.

  • 12:48:39

    NNAMDIYes. I saw the...

  • 12:48:40

    D'ARCYI mean, that's another, you know, symptom of zero tolerance, high accountability atmosphere we're in.

  • 12:48:46

    NNAMDIBut there's this, Bill Bosher, a lot of pressure on schools and teachers to perform. And tardiness is one of the few places where they can say, this is not our responsibility. We rely on parents for this. Are measures like the ones we're looking at in Loudon County a way of schools pushing back?

  • 12:49:04

    BOSHERWell, I think, Kojo, probably, that's true. It is a pushing back. But it's also a reaching out. I heard 42 -- in Virginia, expulsion is cessation of services. As a superintendent, I heard -- I averaged 42 cases for 20 years. And they were typically things like you were distributing drugs, you struck a teacher, you were carrying weapons. There were times when I would sit at a table, and I can tell you, to the right was the young person, to the left was the family. If you were poor, that was it.

  • 12:49:37

    BOSHERIf you were rich, there was a social worker, a psychologist and an attorney. Everybody else was at the table with you. That's the difference between being rich and poor. But I sat at the table at times when the parents would say, Mr. Bosher, do what you have to do. He's not worth a blank. I can't do anything with him. And so, in those instances, I had to wrap my arm around a young person and really turn my cannons at the parents. There are many, many parents who are working quite hard, and, for some reason, they can't get a handle on it anyway, either.

  • 12:50:09

    BOSHERI'm -- I just think, in these cases, it's not as routine as it seems to be. It is a cry for help to families from schools. And a footnote: I think I've always felt if we do things for families that they should do for themselves, we will have actually taught them to abdicate their responsibility. I'm not responsible for the behavior of my children.

  • 12:50:34

    NNAMDIAnd, Steve, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Donnie (sp?) in Alexandria, Va. Donnie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:50:43

    DONNIEHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to share something that works well for our family. We're two working parents, and we have three children. We -- our children attend school in Fairfax County. And Fairfax has a program called SACC that probably most schools have, but it's a school-age aftercare. And our school, our children's elementary school starts at 7:50.

  • 12:51:06

    DONNIEAnd the fact that morning care opens on the school premise at 7:15, and, whether we're working or not, we utilize this because it sort of increases the margin of error for our children in that school, to them, doesn't start at that one minute 7:50 time. It starts at 7:15. And if we're running late, then we have a little bit of time there. And I just wanted to share that with you and your listeners, and maybe someone could -- because, I think, the fees are a sliding scale, so it should be something that's open to, you know, most parents to...

  • 12:51:37

    NNAMDIOK. Thank...

  • 12:51:38

    D'ARCYIt's a good idea.

  • 12:51:39

    NNAMDIThank you very much for that tip. In contrast to that tip, Janice, we've talked on this show quite a bit about how the Internet serves as an anonymous tool for not only getting a sense of how other people are raising their children, but also judging them as opposed to giving them tips. Do you find a lot of that happening in the story, a lot of judgments being made about the parent?

  • 12:52:00

    D'ARCYOh. Oh, yes. It's unbelievable. To me, it's unbelievable to read some of the comments. I mean, you heard words like, these parents are indulgent and they're selfish, and comments that, you know, maybe people a few years ago might have expressed to each other at the kitchen table in the privacy of their own home. But now they have the benefit of anonymity online. This is true, really, across the board on so many parenting stories.

  • 12:52:30

    D'ARCYPeople have very strong opinions about their decisions as a parent and how other people are raising their kids. It's such an important issue that -- to people that they are making the right decision. So when they see someone else making a different decision, they get -- can get very judgmental about it.

  • 12:52:50

    NNAMDIBill Bosher, here's an email we got from a parent, who says his or her children are in the same class as the Denicore children that we've been referring to in Loudoun County. "I'm not happy that kids are late one out of three days per week. It's very disruptive to the teacher and the rest of the children in the class and wastes everyone's time. These parents seem to think the rules don't apply to them.

  • 12:53:13

    NNAMDI"Besides inconveniencing everyone else, what lesson will these children learn? How will they handle jobs if they think chronic lateness is fine?" Bill Bosher, is habitual tardiness an indicator of academic trouble down the road?

  • 12:53:28

    BOSHERWell, yes, Kojo. And there's primary and secondary. The secondary is, of course, for those who've been taken off of task and the teacher's attention, which can be true of any discipline. And the primary is for the young person. Usually, when people are not in class -- I mean, I would frequently ask, are you running to something or from something? I can better solve it if you're running from something.

  • 12:53:53

    BOSHERBut if they're late for class, it's usually not just that I was more methodical and I took my time and class was too far away. You know, it's an intentional behavior, especially over time, and probably is a behavior that's replicated in other areas. I don't know, Kojo, that there's a lot of science about that, but common sense would say that it's probably true.

  • 12:54:19

    NNAMDIWilliam Bosher is dean of the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, executive director of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute and a former state superintendent in Virginia. Bill Bosher, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:54:33

    BOSHERThank you, Kojo. Good to be with you and Janice.

  • 12:54:35

    NNAMDIJanice D'Arcy is a journalist and author of the "On Parenting" blog at The Washington Post. She's the mother of two children. Janice, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:54:43

    D'ARCYThanks so much.

  • 12:54:43

    NNAMDIGood luck to you.

  • 12:54:44

    D'ARCYThank you.

  • 12:54:45

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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