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Pennsylvania School Levies Insane Fines for Ditching

How would you like to get a $27,000 fine if your kid missed school? That's what's going down in Lebanon, PA—and a lawsuit plans to stop it.

What happens when a school district cares more about money than it does about kids? It levies insane—as in $27,000 for one student—truancy fines. That's the kind of penalties the Lebanon, Pennsylvania, school district's been imposing on students and their families, and now they're facing a federal lawsuit over the practice.

The class action suit filed by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia on behalf of four parents and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says that Lebanon School District's truancy fines are "excessive and illegal" and are unfairly applied to minority families.

How excessive? According to the law center, the district "levied $1.3 million in truancy fines in the past eight years, including almost $500,000 in fines in the 2008-09 school year."

If you're thinking that the district's imposing the fines on parents who don't care whether or not their kids are in school, the story of Rosa Rivera, a single, low-income parent in the district might change your mind. Rivera says she withdrew her son from the district due to a planned relocation to Puerto Rico in 2009.

Things didn't work out so Rivera says she returned Lebanon and re-enrolled her son. Shortly thereafter, she found a notice in her mailbox demanding that she pay a whopping $1,400. The district says her son missed 20 days of school, but he wasn't even enrolled.

Since the penalties also apply to children 13 or older, one 17-year-old is actually facing a $12,000 bill for missing school. The district hasn't specified how they expect that student to pay—perhaps he'll drop out and get a full time job.

Indeed, dropping out is becoming more commonplace in Lebanon. Pennsylvania law lets students legally leave school at 17. Once kids are old enough, they simply quit school to avoid accruing additional truancy fines. That, of course, defeats the purpose of a truancy policy, which should be to help kids get to school and stay there.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Angels Gate

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