A Problem with Truancy in Kindergarten

To what degree can a kindergarten student be found truant? In Commonwealth v. Kerstetter, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that despite a parent’s inability to get her two daughters to kindergarten, the children would be found truant.

According to the parent, whose children had previously been under the care of Child and Youth Services, her daughters had anxiety about attending school and being away from her. She claims they refused to get dressed and threw tantrums to avoid going to school.

When it comes to deciding whether or not children in kindergarten who accumulate unexcused absences can be found truant the code states that parents are not required to enroll their children in kindergarten. If they choose to, however, their children are subjected to the same compulsory attendance laws that apply to other grade levels. But the code also defines the age in which compulsory attendance laws apply as the “lowest grade…above kindergarten” when the child enters the school as a “beginner.” Under such regulations, the compulsory attendance laws would not apply to a student until he or she is enrolled in first grade.

This contradiction in the Pennsylvania School Code is what caused the Kerstetter case to be so controversial. The Court ultimately ruled that the term “beginners” had no substance in the case and did not define the compulsory school age. Furthermore, the court upheld that since the children were enrolled in kindergarten, the compulsory attendance laws applied to them. Despite the parent’s appeals that her children were not even legally required to attend kindergarten and thus could not be found truant, the Court ruled against her.

The Kerstetter decision is likely to have a large impact on kindergarten enrollment rates. Kevin Golembiewski and David J. Berney, associates with the Law Offices of David J. Berney P.C., argue that “if a family faces barriers to consistent school attendance and they know there is a high probability that they will be subjected to truancy charges should they choose to enroll their children in kindergarten, they will elect likely not to do so”.

Since absences of children at the kindergarten age are most likely attributed to their parents, they could potentially choose to deny their children a kindergarten education to avoid the threat of truancy charges. Additionally, the case decision could discourage low-income families from enrolling their children in kindergarten due to the monetary costs of violating compulsory attendance laws. The strict interpretation of the Pennsylvania School Code by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the Kerstetter case may prove counterproductive to encouraging kindergarten enrollment in the Commonwealth, causing a further deterioration of the condition of the state’s school system.