Next month a trial is scheduled for two Virginia parents, Mark and Amy Denicore, who are facing misdemeanor charges because of their children’s repeated tardiness to a local elementary school. On February 6th, The Denicores were arraigned on Class 3 misdemeanor chargers at the Loudoun Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, with their case set for March 14th.
If convicted, The Denicores could face fines of up to $3000 and Mark Denicore could lose his license to practice law, consequences he considers extreme. Denicore claimed to the Loudon Times that his children have missed less that three hours of school in total since September. Of the misdemeanor charges he and his wife are facing he said:
“I would say that it’s pretty extreme. The Virginia truancy statutes is for kids that are blowing off school without their parent’s knowledge, not for this kind of thing… They’re taking a lot of leeway in their interpretation of what the code says to make it criminal conduct, it’s outrageous.”
“We understand the school is running a train and they want everybody in the train station before the train leaves,” Mark Denicore said. “I understand that this is a legitimate goal to have and we are doing our best to try to comply to that. But, we’re not perfect parents. We don’t have perfect kids and sometimes we’re late. The real issue is is that criminal conduct? I can’t find it in the statues.”
Mother, Amy Denicore spoke about he issue this way to Babycenter.com:
“Punctuality is important, but it’s not the end-all be-all… It’s not my goal that the kids are late, but my goal is that they arrive to school well-fed, ready to learn and comfortable in their skin.”
Meanwhile, Loudoun county officials remain unmoved. School spokesman Wayde Byard told WTOP that,
“It is our duty, as charged by the state, to make sure that student is OK… If somebody is coming in after the bell when everybody is seated and on task, the teacher then has to repeat the lesson and it is disruptive.”
Bayard also told the Loudoun Times that,
“…it would have to be only very chronic level cases where the school level has failed where we’ll take it to the intake officer at the juvenile and domestic relations court who will then take it to a magistrate if they deem it worthy of that attention and then they issue a summons,” Byard said. “The judge will decide if there will be a hearing. This is not us arresting people on the street.”
“The judges have asked us to turn over chronic attendance issues such as this. We issue no summons on anybody. The procedure is after five days we’ll call the parent and say we need to talk about this… There’s obviously a recurrent pattern developing here. After six days of unexcused absences we’ll have a parent conference and we’ll try to get a strategy going on how can we help you get your child to school, have them here on time and ready to learn.”
The Denicores acknowledge that they had received several warnings about their children’s late arrivals at school but had never met with school official about the issue. Mark Denicore claims that he did request such a meeting with Waterford’s principal, attendance officer and legal counsel but ever received a response.
For any parent the plight of the Denicores probably engenders both sympathy and frustration. We’ve all been in the difficult situation of trying to get kids out the door but at the same time most of us can’t imagine racking up triple digit tardiness stats that reflect negatively on our kids. By any standard it seems that the Denicores are a family that needs to get their weekday morning act together and it is unfathomable that they let the situation get this far out of hand.
However, setting these mixed emotions of a fellow parent aside, should the Denicores really be facing criminal prosecution because their children are late to school on a regular basis? Students routinely receive in-school punishments like detention for tardiness – even tardiness the responsibility for which falls to the adults that bring them to school. How then should we transfer some of this penalty to the parents themselves?
Whether or not a class 3 misdemeanor charge – punishable by unto a $500 fine per infraction and resulting in a permanent criminal record – is an appropriate punishment or hopelessly misguided overkill, according to Mark Denicore the statute used to charge he and his wife isn’t even applicable. Denicore, who plans to represent himself at trial, contends that Virginia State Code 22.1-254 is not meant to apply to tardiness at all. The law, instead, is designed to address parental involvement in supporting truancy.
If the Denicore’s aren’t successful in their defense, they can take some solace in that the fines associated with their charges will potentially suspended or forgiven as long as their children’s school attendance improves.
Unfortunately things don’t always go so smoothly, as another recent case in Loudoun illustrates. On January 21 another Loudoun County parent, Maureen Blake was arrested for her children’s repeated tardiness and has been charged with “contributing to the delinquency of her minor children.” This was Blake’s second arrest relating to her children’s school attendance and she is facing a class 1 misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.
It is important to note that while arrest warrants are rarely issued, these types of cases are not rare in Virginia. The Washington Post reported, per a county spokesperson, that the Loudoun sheriff’s office serves attendance-related court summons to an average of two or three parents per month.