HARRISBURG, Ill. – FOX 2 has learned parents in Harrisburg, Illinois are being arrested and prosecuted for their kids missing school. Parents have even been arrested and jailed.
The idea of going to jail and posting bail seemed impossible for Carolyn Larsen until it happened to her Monday night.
“I had a police officer come to my house and say, ‘Look, I need to talk to you outside.’ When I got outside he said, ‘I have a warrant for your arrest.’ I cried. I’ve never been in trouble,” she said. “The officer was very nice. He took me over to the car and put cuffs on me on the other side of the car so the kids couldn’t see it but I’ve got four kids at home. It’s nothing you should be arrested for.”
With COVID concerns, Larsen chose the remote-learning option for her son, who has asthma and is a fifth-grader at East Side School in the Harrisburg Unit 3 School District.
Larsen and her husband own the Ink Masters tattoo shop in Harrisburg. She admits struggling to run a business and keep her son engaged in online learning.
“When they let the shop open back up there just wasn’t enough time in the day unless you did it for them,” she said.
At the same time, her special needs son has thrived with “in-person” learning at another school.
Harrisburg Unit 3 Superintendent Mike Gauch confirmed to FOX 2 he’s turned over names to Saline County State’s Attorney Molly Kasiar. He said it happens every year in the district. He’s not sure there’s any benefit to handcuffing parents and taking them to jail but it’s not his decision.
“But at some point, we perpetuate the problem if we don’t say, ‘We can’t stand for this anymore,’” Gauch said.
Under Illinois law, “Allowing Truancy” is Class C misdemeanor for a parent or guardian, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Court records show Kasiar has charged at least five parents with truancy violations in 2021. Her office said she would not comment about pending cases.
Gauch said kids come first. There is a middle ground between jailing parents and keeping kids in school, be it via remote or in-person learning.
“That could be an added level of communication between her office and our office, say, ‘Listen, I’ve got these three (cases). I’m getting ready to send cops out. Do you want to have a last chance meeting with them (families)?’” he said.
Gauch believes nearly all of the active truancy cases involve remote-learning students.
“There’s other parents out there that are getting this,” Larsen said. “We’re not criminals.”
She’s due in court next month.
FOX 2 has asked St. Louis area prosecutors about truancy cases and have gotten limited responses, so far. St. Louis County reports no active cases, while Madison County, Illinois reports several. A spokesman said the state’s attorney is trying to work things out between families and school district.
Harrisburg is located about 130 miles east of St. Louis near Marion.