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Missouri Moms Facing Jail Time After Losing Appeal Over School Absences

Two Missouri moms face the harsh penalty of prison time, after the Missouri Supreme Court upheld their sentences for failing to ensure “regular” school attendance for their children.

In a ruling Tuesday, the court determined that the state should not provide a legal definition for what “regular” attendance means.

“No Missouri parent would conclude “on a regular basis” means anything less than having their child go to school on those days the school is in session,” Supreme Court Judge Robin Ransom declared.

Tamarae LaRue, 32, and Caitlyn Williams, both from Lebanon, face the consequences on behalf of their children, aged 6 and 7, respectively. The two mothers were prosecuted by the Lebanon II School District, which requires an attendance rate of 90 percent or higher.

LaRue was found guilty and sentenced to 13 days in prison for her son’s 15 absences in first grade, while Williams served seven days for her daughter’s 16 absences in kindergarten.

Neither mother attempted to dodge attendance, providing various excuses such as dentist appointments, illness, and even a case of ringworm. LaRue was concerned that she was being singled out by the state, seeing as nearly one-fourth of all students attended school less than 90% of the time in 2021-2022.

“I was busting my tail trying to make sure they had all the proof they need—all the doctor’s notes they need—calling them while at the eye doctor,” LaRue said.

Though the mothers’ appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court, the matter of school attendance has become a topical issue, with nearly 600 charges filed in the last five years for violations of Missouri’s compulsory-education law.

In Williams’ case, the prosecution alleged that she was given two warnings by the school prior to her daughter missing 16 days of school. Steve Jackson, the judge who sentenced Williams in 2021, was deeply sympathetic to the mother but remained resolute around the issue.

“It is absolutely a horrible statute,” he said.

In the wake of the case, the district clarified their stance on attendance: “School attendance is crucial for a student’s academic, social and personal development,” district spokeswoman Jacy Overstreet said. “Our first approach is to work collaboratively with students, their families and our dedicated staff members to identify the underlying reasons for the absences.”

Though the laws around school attendance for Missouri currently appear to remain firm, the ruling concerning LaRue and Williams have drawn attention to a possible shift in policy to coming years. Until this point in time, the court’s ruling stands, and the mothers have accepted the consequences.

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