DETROIT | The night Demarco Harris fatally shot a woman during a robbery on a Detroit street, his parents told police knocking on their door at 2 a.m. they didn’t know where their 12-year-old was.
Wayne County, Mich., Prosecutor Kym Worthy said that’s indicative of a larger issue in Detroit, where the lack of making parents accountable for their children partly is blamed for elevated truancy and dropout rates, as well as a recent rash of violent crimes involving teens.
Ms. Worthy has a new idea she hopes will fix the problem: Jail parents for up to three days for repeatedly missing scheduled parent-teacher conferences.
“I have seen that younger and younger children are committing more violent acts and we need to look at different approaches,” Ms. Worthy told reporters. “I know we need to try something different. We should not have to legislate this, but what we have been doing is not working.”
She’s still working on the details, but once her proposal is finished, she hopes to present it to county commissioners in August and persuade them to approve an ordinance. After that, she may take it to state legislators in Lansing.
It’s unlikely to quickly become an ordinance because it would probably be challenged in court. Civil libertarians say it may be outside the law. Even some teachers, who often spend several hours waiting for parents who don’t show up for the conferences, are skeptical.
“I understand the prosecutor’s concern, but jail time?” said Detroit middle school teacher Ann Crowley.
Ms. Worthy first considered her proposal after a spate of shootings involving students that culminated in the June 2009 wounding of seven teens at a city bus stop. The Demarco Harris trial convinced her she was on the right track.
He had been in and out of school a lot and his parents rarely met with his teachers. Then came Aug. 1, 2009, when authorities were investigating a killing.
“When police went to his parents, his parents were not able to account for his whereabouts and it was about 2 in the morning,” Ms. Worthy said.
Harris, who is now 13, was convicted in May of killing 24-year-old Trisha Babcock. He was sentenced to a high-security juvenile lockup.
“We’re trying to prevent any more Demarco Harrises from going down that road,” Ms. Worthy said.
Under her plan, Wayne County parents would be required to pick a time and day to attend one parent-teacher conference a year. If that conference is missed, the school would send out a letter to set up another within 14 days. If the second is missed, parents get a letter about sanctions, which could include up to three days in jail.
Parents with health concerns and those whose children are performing above average could be exempt. “I’m not interested in putting parents in jail if their children are high achievers,” Ms. Worthy said.
Currently, attendance at parent-teacher conferences isn’t mandatory, and Ms. Worthy’s plan may be challenged because it could infringe on a parent’s civil rights.