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The Color of Money / Home & Consumer

Color of Money: Tardiness is Not a Crime

WASHINGTON -- Money is not the answer to everything.

For example, consider the trend of schools forcing families to pay fines for various infractions such as getting their children late to class. It's counterproductive and the fines often hit people who can least afford them.

The practice is an idiotic attempt to change people's behavior by making them pay. We keep hearing examples of this from around the country.

In Chicago, a charter school system fines students $5 if they end up in detention for piling up infractions that include chewing gum, having untied shoelaces or not looking a teacher in the eye. Children who get 12 detentions in a year must attend a behavior class in the summer that costs $140. Many of the students come from low-income families.

Then there is this nonsense of charging and even jailing parents whose kids are perpetually tardy. A judge in Virginia found a woman guilty of three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor because her children were frequently late for school.

The mother was arrested. She was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for each of her three children, plus $3,000 in court costs. She said she has trouble getting her children to school on time because she suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Another Virginia couple faces trial this month on a misdemeanor charge because their three young children have been late arriving at their elementary school. Most of the time the children, who are good students, were tardy by just a few minutes, their father, Mark Denicore, said in an interview.

Denicore, who is an attorney, has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that there is nothing in the state's statutes that remotely supports making tardiness a crime. But if they lose the case, Denicore said he would probably pull the children out of the public school for fear that future infractions could result in jail time for himself and his wife.

"I don't think putting a financial burden on people, especially in this economy, is going to motivate people to do something or result in the intent they want," said Denicore.

He understands the need to have his children on time for school, but does this mean their tardiness should be fined and criminalized?

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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