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The father of a California middle school student is livid with the “ridiculous” threat of jail time for his son after he allegedly missed several online classes.
The 12-year-old Lafayette student reportedly did not attend three 30-minute Zoom classes and the school’s principal sent a letter home which referenced a California state law that mandates students missing more than 90 minutes of school in an academic year be classified as truants, ultimately facing fines and jail.
The father of the seventh grade Stanley Middle School student asserted that his son is a straight-A student and did not miss the classes, suggesting that he may have logged in after the teacher had already taken attendance, according to the East Bay Times.
“Out of the blue, we got this letter. It said my son had missed classes, and at the bottom it referenced a state law which said truants can go to jail for missing 90 minutes of class,” Mastrov told the outlet. “I called the school and said, ‘Hey, I want to clear this up.’
“I was told that it was the law. I said, “Are you kidding me? Then that’s a bad law,’ ” Mastrov added.
“I am not sure what happened,” he said, noting that other Lafayette parents received similar letters when their children also allegedly missed online classes.
According to the California Department of Education, “a student missing more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year must be classified as a truant and reported to the proper school authority.”
Parents of repeat offenders can face fines of up to $2,000 and jail for up to one year.
“He can become a truant of the state and he could be arrested,” Mastrov explained to KGO-TV, saying he followed up with the call to a Stanley Middle School administrator. “I said, ‘Are you going to come and try to arrest my son at my home, or fine me for not getting him to his Zoom class perfectly, on time everyday?'”
Stanley Middle School Principal Betsy Balmat explained that the school has a “responsibility” but Mastrov’s family should have received the letter only after a phone call which the family denied receiving.
“The letter is part of our responsibility to the state for our student attendance review boards. As always, the schools have a responsibility to ensure students are engaged and learning,” she said, explaining that the school will make up to three calls to a parent or guardian when a child misses a class.
“If we have not heard back after three of those, we send a letter,” the principal said.
“When a student is absent without a valid excuse, the student is considered truant according to California law,” the letter to Merek Mastrov’s parents from a Stanley administrator read, according to KGO-TV.
“The pupil may be subject to arrest under Education Code Section 48264,” the letter listed as one of six possible consequences stemming from new state guidelines passed this past summer, CA Senate Bill 98.
According to East Bay Times:
What has changed under a recent state law intended to reflect the times is that teachers now must make sure students are actually participating and not just attending class, she said. Senate Bill 98 was approved in conjunction with the $202 billion budget that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in July.
The new law aims for more accountability in distance instruction and requires teachers to interact live with students every day, whether online, by phone or both. Teachers also must communicate regularly with parents about their child’s progress in class.
“Schools in California use their daily attendance numbers for qualifying for state and federal funding,” KIRO-TV reported.
Mastrov is taking action after receiving the letter about his son’s alleged absence, writing to state elected officials, urging them to change the truancy law.
“Obviously we’re in a pandemic and Gov. Newsom is trying to manage it,” he said. “But if the state of California is focusing on arresting 12-year-old children for missing 90 minutes of school in ten months, it’s ridiculous.”
“Who passed this law in their infinite wisdom?” Mastrov asked. “Who in their right mind could do that?”