Middle schooler threatened with arrest for missing less than 2 hours of virtual class

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 3:43 AM CDT
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LAFAYETTE, Calif. (KGO) - A California father says a letter he received from his son’s middle school that threatened the boy’s arrest for missing his virtual class is total overkill. But the school principal says they had no choice but to send it, given new state guidelines.

Mark Mastrov says he was stunned when his family received a letter threatening his 7th grade son, Merek, with arrest for missing three 30-minute Zoom sessions that were marked as unexcused absences.

“He can become a truant of the state, and he could be arrested. I said ‘Are you going to come arrest my son at my home or try to fine me for not getting him to his Zoom class on time, perfect every day?’” Mastrov said.

Like his classmates at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette, California, Merek spends up to seven hours per day attending virtual school via Zoom.

The letter the Mastrovs received from a school administrator lists the three periods Merek missed and says, “When a student is absent without a valid excuse, the student is considered truant,” according to California law. Later, it noted, “The pupil may be subject to arrest.”

Principal Betsy Balmat says the letter is the result of new state guidelines passed this fall which require districts to keep a closer eye on student attendance as California public schools continue with mostly virtual learning.

“The letter is part of our responsibility to the state for our student attendance review boards. As always, the schools have a responsibility to ensure students are engaged and learning,” Balmat said.

Balmat also said the Mastrovs should’ve received a phone call first, giving them a chance to clear their son’s absences.

Mastrov said he never received such a call, and he’s heard from other Lafayette parents who’ve received similar letters. He’s now writing to lawmakers, urging a change in the law.

“Obviously, we’re in a pandemic, and Gov. [Gavin] Newsom is trying to manage it, but if the state of California is really going to spend a lot of time focusing on arresting 12-year-old children for missing 90 minutes of school in 10 months, it’s ridiculous,” he said.

California public schools traditionally rely on daily attendance numbers for their state and federal funding.

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