MNPS Parents receive letter threatening legal action over student absences

Posted at 6:12 PM, Sep 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-04 21:29:44-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Metro Nashville Public School officials sent nearly 6,000 letters of truancy over poor student attendance across the city since virtual school started.

The letters, which threaten legal action against parents and their kids, are triggered by a state law called the Compulsory Attendance Law. Students who have five or more unexcused absences were sent the letters. For parents whose kids are struggling with attendance because of the virtual requirements, the threatening letters are unwelcome.

Emily Miller, who received one of the letters, has a five-year-old son, Jaxon, who is attending Kindergarten virtually. He's struggled to maintain focus as he's attending school at daycare.

Jaxon's teacher has already informed Miller that her son sometimes gets up and leaves the computer during class and doesn't come back.

Miller said it saddened her to hear from her child that class was boring him and giving him headaches.

"He needs that teacher. He needs to have peers around him of his same age group. He doesn't know how to stay on task which is what Kindergarten kind of teaches these kids," said Miller.

Miller was shocked to see the letter come through the mail.

"It was basically a letter stating because he's missed more than five days, he and I have broken the law and we could be charged with truancy for him being absent for more than five days unexcused," she said.

She said right now isn't the time for this type of action.

"It shouldn't be a threatening letter. They shouldn't be throwing the law around especially during this time when everything is just crazy. It's so unprecedented," said Miller.

An MNPS spokesperson said the intent of the letters isn't to threaten or scare parents. It's supposed to spur them into finding ways to get their kids to attend class.

"We want our parents to hear loud and clear that our first line of defense is to support them. This is about informing them when they receive that letter and then layering on the appropriate supports after we have assessed. We don't intend and that is not our aim to take legal action against our families," said Dr. Michelle Springer Chief of Students Services for MNPS.

The Compulsory Attendance Law existed before the pandemic started. Dr. Springer said these letters have to be sent out when students have five unexcused absences.

She said parents who are struggling with virtual classes have support available at one of six sites across Nashville. They've created a website to help parents with tech issues.

"We know that we must be flexible. This virtual learning environment that our students our experiencing is difficult," said Dr. Springer.

Miller said she doesn't believe parents should be receiving letters like this during the pandemic.

"It's a fear tactic," she said. "I guess they're trying to scare people into participating. I know there's so many families that can't. They don't have child care. They don't have an option. They are having to leave their kids at home. I think about single moms. I think about people that English is not their first language."