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Missouri defends law that puts parents behind bars when their kids miss too much school

Kindergarten students backpacks and jackets hand on the wall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Students jackets and backpacks hang up in a kindergarten classroom. A Missouri law, which can lead to jail time if violated, mandates that parents ensure their kids attend school "on a regular basis.”

In Missouri, school attendance isn’t just a preference of principals and teachers but a matter of state law.

During the 2021-22 school year, two single mothers in Lebanon discovered how powerful that law can be: They found themselves sentenced to jail when their children missed more than two weeks of school. Now, their cases have risen to the attention of the Missouri Supreme Court.

The Missouri attorney general’s office is representing the state in the case against the two parents. Both sent their children to the Lebanon R-III School District. The parents’ public defender argued last week that they should never have been jailed — while also making the case that the law is fundamentally “anti-parent” and unconstitutionally vague.

The state law was among the topics taken up by St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable. Attorneys Nicole Gorovksy, Dave Roland and Kalila Jackson analyzed the impact of the state’s mandatory attendance law and why these two parents may have a case when they argue that the law fails to provide a definition for “regular attendance.”

“I think that the court has been trying to identify, what does it mean for someone to have a child in ‘regular attendance’ when the statute is silent on it?” Jackson said Tuesday. “This issue is ripe for confusion. … I think the court is going to have to answer this question going forward.”

Along with the action in Missouri’s Supreme Court, the Legal Roundtable also discussed:

  • An unusual First Amendment issue involving a St. Louis judge barring the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from publishing material about a murder suspect that was accidentally made public.
  • Kim Gardner’s sudden departure as St. Louis circuit attorney and what’s next for the office under Gabe Gore.
  • A lawsuit filed in Illinois that accuses a subscription service of letting its users rely on artificial intelligence for legal advice.

To learn more about these cases, listen to St. Louis on the Air’s full Legal Roundtable conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Legal Roundtable discusses Missouri's compulsory attendance law, and more

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."
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