Manitowoc, WI — Over the last decade, TFTP has been reporting on the encroachment of the police state into the public education system. As we previously reported, schools across the country are increasingly hiring police officers to do the job that teachers and guidance counselors once did. This is resulting in the criminalization of childhood as well as increased police violence against children. This tendency of of school systems to rely on the police state has increased in the last 12 months thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the following scenario in Wisconsin shows exactly how bad it’s getting.
Because multiple states ignored the science and continue to keep schools closed, millions of children have been and continue to be forced to go to school via online classes and Zoom meetings. Anyone who has children attending these online classes knows how difficult it can be to maintain schedules and communications even when you have a computer and reliable internet.
However, if you take away reliable internet and nice computers, the struggle to maintain an online school presence becomes all but impossible. Instead of trying to help children who struggle with online learning, a Wisconsin school district has taken to extorting them.
A new report out of the Guardian exposes an insidious scheme by police and school officials to fine students who miss too many online classes. Tracy Higgins was one of these parents who was shocked when police showed up at her home to issue her teenage son a $439 fine for missing zoom meetings for class.
Higgins told the Guardian the reason for the online absences was due to faulty school technology, including a Chromebook that wouldn’t charge. But police and the school district reportedly did not care, so Higgins’s son was extorted.
Debra Pratt, another mother from the same district was also confronted by armed agents of the state who showed up at her home to extort her son for the same reason. Her son Jason racked up 28 unexcused absences online, including while he was battling the coronavirus.
“I think it’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, especially during a pandemic when there’s just too many other factors that are playing into this,” Pratt told the Guardian.
Pratt told the Guardian her son struggled to learn remotely which is a situation millions of children found themselves in during the pandemic. Sadly, millions of children are still not in school and these situations continue to play out.
According to a report from the Guardian:
Similar feuds between frustrated parents and school administrators are playing out across the country as the pandemic’s academic disruptions reach the one-year mark. States continue to enforce laws that require families to send their children to school or face steep punishments for unexcused absences, including fines, community service and, in some states, arrests. These “truancy” rules have exacerbated the pandemic-induced challenges confronting many households, from economic instability and mental health crises to a lack of adequate internet access. It’s often these very hardships, school attendance experts say, that force students to miss school in the first place.
The result is a growing concern among policymakers that pandemic-era absences are funneling children into the juvenile justice system and pushing parents into contentious interactions with child protective services.
Attendance Works, a national non-profit focused on combating chronic school absenteeism, has urged districts to play close attention to students who aren’t showing up to class during the pandemic and offer help to ensure they don’t fall behind. But the group also advised districts to resist punitive responses to truancy that “disproportionately impact students based on race, class and poverty and do not solve the problems that contribute to why students are missing school and can be especially harmful in this moment of crisis”.
The idea of fining children for missing school is repulsive — especially during such unprecedented times. Extorting struggling kids in an attempt to coerce them into online learning is futile, especially if they do not have the money to pay.
Mark Holzman, the district superintendent, explained that children who can’t afford to pay must work off the fines at a rate of $10 per hour while performing community service. That is over 43 hours of labor for a child — who is already struggling to attend online classes.
Higgins was also given a letter stating that her license would be suspended if her son’s fine was not paid. It seems the state’s only “solution” to preventing truancy issues is to plunge already-struggling families into debt and ensnare them in the system — thereby ensuring future failure.
Rather than providing the student with the mental health care and special education supports that his mother said he desperately needs, the district pushed the family into a court battle to address his truancy or face punishment, the mother said, costing her more than $1,000 to hire an attorney. The end result, she worries, will be a fine under the state truancy law.
“I can lead him to water, but can’t make him drink,” the mother said. “I was under the impression that I was going to get help from the school,” but oversight by a judge and child protective services hasn’t led to any attendance improvements. The whole situation, she said, has left her feeling hopeless. “Parenting is a full-time job, but this is a lot. It’s taken its toll on me.”