House Bill 4309 and Senate Bill 464: Adding "Habitually Absent From School" to the Definition of a Neglected Child

West Virginia
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Last Updated: March 19, 2012
House Bill 4309 and Senate Bill 464: Adding "Habitually Absent From School" to the Definition of a Neglected Child
House Senate
Sponsors:
Delegates Miley, M. Poling, Frazier, Longstreth, Barill, Jones, Stowers, Manchin, and Boggs
Sponsors:
Senators Palumbo, Laird, Tucker, Edgell, Wills, Jenkins Browning, Plymale, and Klempa
Summary:

HB 4309 would include a child who is physically healthy and presumed safe but "habitually absent from school without good cause" in West Virginia's definition of a "neglected child."

Summary:

SB 464 would include a child who is physically healthy and presumed safe but "habitually absent from school without good cause" in West Virginia's definition of a "neglected child."

Status:

01/26/2012     (House)     Introduced and referred to the Education Committee
03/16/2012     (House)     This bill died when the legislator adjourned.

Status:

01/31/2012     (Senate)     Introduced and referred to the Education Committee
03/16/2012     (Senate)     This bill died when the legislator adjourned.

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose.

HB 4309 is dangerous legislation that would create serious problems for home educators and all West Virginia parents. The bill language says that “a child who is physically healthy and presumed safe is a neglected child if the child is habitually absent from school” and would give new powers to judges over West Virginia families. We need you to take action immediately to defeat this bill.

HB 4309 is an attempt by the West Virginia judiciary to “get at children.” This was the testimony of a judge involved with the state’s juvenile truancy task force. Today, in West Virginia, truancy is a criminal offense under West Virginia Code 18-8-2 which charges parents with a crime if they do not send their children to school. Current law already provides school officials and courts enough power to handle issues of truancy. This includes the authority to order children to attend school.

These statutes also provide West Virginian parents due process protections and specific procedures that schools must follow when there are problems with school attendance. These procedures make sure that everyone understands what is expected of them and what can happen when there are problems. Criminal procedures provide higher protection than the West Virginina child abuse code.

If the legislature passes HB 4309, creating a new definition of neglect in the abuse code, more families will be bullied in family court with fewer protections. These families will be subject to the whims of judges who could order just about anything they want, including the removal of children from the home, just because children, in their opinion, haven’t been to school enough. Judges should not have this authority, and it is crucial that all freedom loving West Virginians tell the legislature no to giving this unfettered discretion and power to judges in West Virginia.

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose.

Same as House

Action Requested:
None at this time
Action Requested:
None at this time
Background:

Truancy laws already exist in West Virginia and are sufficient to handle the present problems. Truancy is currently handled as a criminal process which provides the necessary due process protections for parents who are charged. The definitions in the proposed law are vague, perhaps unconstitutionally so, and could result in many more families being hauled into family court over absences. Courts have been dealing with truancy issues for a long time and have figured it out. Adding social services and family courts into the mix is a monumentally bad idea. Due process protections in family court are less stringent and the remedies available include removing children from the home—should children be removed from otherwise good conditions only because they aren't attending school?

If passed HB 4309 would:

• Define parents as child abusers if their children appear physically healthy but miss what a judge thinks is too many days of school;

• Make it too easy for Child Protection Services and Judges to remove children from a home even if the children were not abused or neglected;

• Put too much power in the hands of unaccountable judges with vague definitions and broad powers—What is habitually absent? Who defines physically healthy?

• Result in the removal of children from their homes who are having non-physical problems, such as depression or other emotional issues and force them to attend public school against their parents will;

• Affect homeschool families if they do not file their homeschool paperwork properly such as a late notice of intent or not complying with the 14-day waiting period before pulling children out of public school to homeschool;

• Not take into consideration children’s special physical, mental, emotional or other needs;

• Treat truancy as child abuse and places parents in Family Court were the judges have virtually unlimited powers and where parents have fewer due process protections;

• Create a system of enforcement that just does not care about the individual needs of a child and the efforts that parents are putting in to meeting those needs.

HB 4309 is unnecessary because state law already provides sufficient authority to punish parents and for schools and attendance directors to fashion remedies to deal with habitual truancy under the criminal code.

Background:

Same as House.

 Other Resources

House Bill Text

House Bill History

 Other Resources

Senate Bill Text

Senate Bill History