DELANO, Calif. — Authorities in Delano are prosecuting parents of students who make a habit of cutting school.
Some parents have been fined, while others have been sentenced to accompany their children to school.
Justice Court Judge Bryce Chase said he would send a parent to jail if he had to.
He just has never had to.
"In those cases where the parents are lackadaisical about wanting to see their children go to school, it's not an uncomfortable situation to be in to punish them," the judge said.
"But in some cases, the parent is doing what they can. And here they are, dragged into court and lined up next to the serious felons and advised of their rights. . . . That's uncomfortable."
6 Cases a Semester
The judge estimates he passes judgment on half a dozen such cases a semester. It's part of the hard line against truants that he and school officials decided to take two years ago in this farming community 125 miles north of Los Angeles.
A student is officially considered truant after cutting class three times. Delano school officials then try to counsel the student and parent back into the fold.
Usually, that's all it takes, but when cooperation is absent, Assistant Principal Ralph A. Busco prepares the paper work for court.
He took six cases in the spring of 1985. Last year, he took 25. This year, he expects to take 50.
"We're not as tolerant as we used to be," he said, adding that record-keeping also has become more sophisticated.
Some cases are settled after the papers are delivered but before the court date arrives, Busco said.
"I have never had one go to trial," Chase said. "Generally, they come in and plead guilty."
During the first year, the judge continued the sentencing until the end of the semester. If the student stayed in school, the charges were dismissed.
This year, the judge started imposing the maximum fine of $170, then suspending all but $50 if the student improved his or her attendance record.
Sometimes, the judge orders the parent to accompany the teen-ager to school, which Busco said embarrasses both.
School Officials Sympathize
School officials said they sympathize with some parents who seem to be doing all they can.
"We have so many working parents that they depend on the students to do their part," said Orval Brown, also an assistant principal. "I had one mother sit here in a conference and say to her daughter, 'Honey, I won't go to jail for you.' "
The judge said that while it is the parent who is charged, it ultimately puts more responsibility on the student.
"Some of the parents are glad to see it, even though they are embarrassed," Chase said. "It gets the attention of the kids.
"But there are a lot of parents who indicate they question how far the court should get involved in the family situation."