The county has pulled the plug on its proposed anti-truancy ordinance, which had alarmed parents of home schoolers who felt it could unfairly target their children, as well as civil libertarians who said it violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches without probable cause.
“We don’t need to be upsetting a lot of folks,” said Supervisor Adam Hill, adding that the earlier ordinance raised a lot of unanswered questions.
The Board of Supervisors deliberated the local ordinance in January but asked for more information when proponents — including the sheriff, chief probation officer and superintendent of schools — could not answer questions about these concerns to the board’s satisfaction.
A passel of parents testified against the anti-truancy law, and some had their children speak, as well.
The law was designed to get youngsters who regularly skip school back into the classroom. Truancy, officials argue, is a predictor of who will drop out of school.
The ordinance would have increased the powers of school resource officers and other law enforcement personnel to “temporarily detain” students who are not in school during class hours.
The officer would have been empowered “to return that minor to school or his or her parents or legal guardian.” School resource officers — law enforcement officers assigned to monitor specific campuses — do not currently have that authority, Chief Probation Officer Jim Salio wrote in a staff report to supervisors.
Giving it to them would enable them to “act in the best interest of the minor and preserve public safety,” he wrote.
But officials were unable to explain under what circumstances school resource officers would accost a youngster. There are, they pointed out, numerous acceptable reasons for a school-age child to be on the street during school hours — from a home-schooled student running an errand to a public school student being off-campus during lunch hour.
The law “presumes our children are guilty (of being truant) until proven innocent,” parent Nancy Fortenberry said.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Monday that county officials met with parents to assure them that their youngsters would not be targeted. He said he did not want children to develop a negative view of law enforcement.
Parkinson said that separating known, habitual truants from other youngsters who might be off campus for legitimate reasons was at the core of the problem.
“The point is to keep these (habitually truant) kids in school,” Parkinson said.
However, he added, narrowing the county ordinance to draw that distinction conflicts with state law.
“Because the truancy ordinance could not be narrowed in focus,” Salio wrote in a prepared statement, the county withdrew the truancy ordinance.