Missouri Supreme Court upholds law allowing jailing of parents over kids’ missed school

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld a state law requiring school attendance, after two parents were sentenced to jail following numerous absences by their children.

In a 6-0 decision, the court ruled the law is not unconstitutionally vague, as the parents argued. The court also found enough evidence existed to support finding that the parents knowingly failed to make their children attend school on a regular basis. Judge George Draper didn’t participate in the case.

Missouri law requires parents and guardians of children in enrolled public schools to ensure their children attend “on a regular basis,” but doesn’t define the term.

Caitlyn Williams and Tamarae LaRue, both single parents, had children enrolled in Lebanon public schools who both missed 15 days of school, according to prosecutors. They were charged with class C misdemeanors and a judge found both guilty after a bench trial.

Williams was sentenced to seven days in jail and LaRue was sentenced to 15 days in jail, with the sentence suspended.

“When measured by common understanding and practices, no Missouri parent would conclude attendance ‘on a regular basis’ means anything less than having their child go to school on those days the school is in session,” Judge Robin Ransom wrote for the court.

Ransom wrote that the law “of course” contains exceptions to the mandatory attendance requirements, but that those exceptions weren’t present in the record in the case. The parents didn’t remove their children from the schools’ rolls or demonstrate that their children were mentally or physically incapacitated.

“This nonattendance was not excused by any circumstance provided for in the statute,” Ransom wrote. “Given the notice provided to each parent and that each parent was in control of their young child, evidence existed to support the inference that each parent knowingly failed to cause their child to attend school on a regular basis.”

A public defender representing the parents declined to comment in response to the ruling.