Families face truancy fines, court battles as pandemic creates school attendance barriers

By: | March 17, 2021

It was the Monday morning before Thanksgiving when a police officer showed up on Tracie Higgins’s doorstep and handed a $439 fine to her teenage son for missing too many days of remote school during the pandemic.

But the bulk of her son Mark’s repeated absences, the Wisconsin mother protested, were the result of faulty school technology, including a Chromebook that wouldn’t charge. Debra Pratt, also of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, faced a similar situation this school year with her son Jason, who was fined for racking up 28 absences that the school district marked as unexcused – including the same day in late September that he tested positive for Covid-19.

“I think it’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, especially during a pandemic when there’s just too many other factors that are playing into this,” said Pratt. Like many children nationwide, she said that Jason struggled to learn remotely. He recovered from the virus after experiencing mild symptoms, but the school disruptions have taken a toll on him both emotionally and academically. “Placing a truancy fine on them is certainly not going to help the situation or make it any better.”

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