The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing a case in which a parent was jailed because her daughter missed too many days of school.
Caitlyn Williams was jailed for seven days last year because her first-grade daughter missed 15 days of school. State law requires that students “regularly” attend classes, or their parent or guardian can be jailed. Public Defender Ellen Flottman represented Williams before the High Court, saying the law is too vague.
“This case turns on the definition of ‘regular,'” she said. “The state has argued that ‘regular’ means every day that school is scheduled. The Lebanon school district says it means 90 percent of the days that school is scheduled. The Caruthersville school district, at least at one time, said until you hit seven absences you have attended on a regular basis.”
Shaun Mackelprang of the Missouri Attorney General’s office defended the law during a hearing earlier this month, along with the sentence handed down to Williams.
“I think the Court has to determine what ‘regularly’ means by looking at its commonly understood meaning, and in so much it’s not statutorily defined, the court should look to the dictionary and see what the common meaning of the word is,” Mackelprang said. “And if you look there, it means things like ‘steady’ and ‘not subject to the unexplained or irrational variation’ or ‘steadily pursued.’”
The Missouri Supreme Court will rule on the case later.
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