Sunday Mornings with Rania: 10 Laws Every Parent Should Know
I’ve done many things and had many experiences. Parenting is officially the hardest – by far.
After all, each child has its own package of complexities. They speak their own language, have their own vision, goals, objectives, needs and desires. Add to this the fact that the world we live in comes with a bundle of other things to navigate: their lives online and in school. They need to be social yet ingrained in a “healthy” amount of extra-curricular activities.
Through it all, we strive to teach them good characteristics like showing respect and kindness when dealing with others. We instill in them good citizenry, hopefully creating law-abiding individuals who contribute to the community in which they live. There is a great deal to think about.
With all we have to stay on top of, some parents draw the line when it comes to the law. There is a certain sense of “living in the grey” – we are familiar but not too familiar with what’s allowed or expected. Here are some laws that every parent should know but many simply do not:
1. Truancy Laws: When unexcused absences bring charges
- The Texas Education Code requires children ages 6 to 18 attend school. Truancy, i.e., unexcused absences or missing school without permission, is a legal issue.
- Children cannot have unexcused absences for 10 or more days or parts of days in a six-month period. If they do, the school district must file charges. If your child has absence for three or more days or parts of days in a four-week period, the school district may file charges.
- Charges can be brought against you, as a parent, for Parent Contributing to Nonattendance or against your child for Failure to Attend school if s/he is 12 years old or older but not yet 18.
- A law enforcement or probation officer may take a truant student into custody until the student can go to court, unless a parent or guardian promises to bring the student to court for the hearing.
- A truant student’s driver’s license can be suspended for up to one year for truancy. This includes suspending the ability to receive a learner’s permit!
- Exempt from truancy laws are children who attend private or parochial school.
2. The new world of bullying
I hope no child ever feels the level of bullying that requires a drastic life change like moving or switching schools. The reality is, it happens. Many parents do not know this but in Texas, you can request a transfer. The Texas Educational Code gives the parents of a bullied child the right to request the transfer of their child to another classroom or another campus within the school district. If the board of trustees verifies the bullying, there is no time limit placed on the transfer. Transportation to the new school, however, is not required, according to the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
3. Homeschooling children
Texas leads the nation statistically in number of children homeschooled. Texas has permitted homeschooling since the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in Leeper v. Arlington ISD (1999). In Leeper, the court decided that home schools are the equivalent of private schools under the Texas Education Code, thus exempting school-aged, home-schooled children from the state’s compulsory school attendance laws. The Leeper decision makes Texas one of the most homeschool friendly states, because the law doesn’t require parents who homeschool their children to register themselves, test their children, get approval for their materials or even count attendance. Additionally, parents who homeschool are not required to have teaching certificates or college degrees.
4. Want to see your child’s school record?
Under the Texas Education Code, parents are entitled to see all written records a school district keeps on their children, including attendance records, test scores, grades, disciplinary action, counseling, psychological testing and teacher and counselor evaluations.
Special exception: Texas Attorney General addressed the question of whether a parent has unrestricted access to a child’s school counseling records. Under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), a public school may withhold a minor child’s counseling records from a parent only if the records are kept in the sole possession of the counselor, are used only as the counselor’s personal memory aid and are not accessible or revealed to any other person. Similarly, state law provides that a licensed mental health practitioner may withhold a minor child’s records only if release of such records would be harmful to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health.
5. Texas is among one of the few states to clarify that parents – not school districts – will have the final say on whether their children take drugs to control behavior. Texas Education Code (Section 38.016) states that it is illegal for school personnel to recommend that a student use a psychotropic drug (such as Ritalin) or to suggest any particular diagnosis. If parents refuse to give their child a psychotropic drug (even after a psychiatric evaluation), the child cannot be kept from attending class or participating in a school-related activity. However, the law does not prohibit a school district employee from recommending that a child be evaluated by an appropriate medical practitioner.
6. To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – do you have a choice? Texas law requires children attending daycare, school and college to be vaccinated against a variety of childhood diseases, ranging from Hepatitis B to chicken pox to polio. However, the state also permits parents to exempt their children from these vaccinations based on reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs or medical conditions.
Recent addition to Texas law: Texas passed new laws in 2013 that allows certain minors to consent to vaccination; new law effective Sept. 1, 2014 that requires child-care facilities to develop and implement a policy concerning vaccination of employees for parents
7. How old do my kids need to be before they can be left home alone? Texas law provides no specific recommendations, according to Department of Family and Protective Services. However, the agency recommends taking several factors into consideration before leaving a child home alone, including the age, emotional maturity and capability of the child; the layout and safety of the home or play area; the child’s ability to respond to an emergency; and whether the child has any mental, physical or medical disabilities.
8. Who pays when kids get out of hand? When dealing with children over 10 but under 18, the Texas Family code holds the parents liable for property damage if the child’s actions were negligent, willful or malicious and reasonably attributable to the parent’s negligence in exercising parental duties. Parents can expect to pay up to $25,000 in damages plus costs related to reasonable attorney fees.
9. Medical treatment and kids. Any minor who is either in the military or 16 years old and living apart from one’s parents may consent to medical treatment. That said, all minors in Texas may consent to medical treatment pertaining to pregnancy, drug, alcohol abuse or infectious diseases.
10. Body piercing and tattoos. It’s actually against the law for a facility to perform a body piercing (excludes pierced ears) and/or tattoo on anyone under the age of 18. Exception occurs when parent or legal guardian has given written consent AND is present during the procedure. A facility may also give your minor child a tattoo if it is done in an effort to cover another tattoo that contains 1) obscene or offensive language or symbols, 2) gang-related names, symbols or markings, 3) drug-related names, symbols or pictures, 4) other words, symbols or markings that the parent, guardian or court would consider in the best interest of the minor to cover.
Like in anything, when there is so much information coming your way, some of it inevitably gets filed in the “need to know only” category. Laws relating to your children often live in that bucket. I understand it but find that with knowledge, liability is easily mitigated. Now we have the information; let’s take a moment to talk about it with our families. I truly believe that education breeds prevention and prevention is an amazing thing to invest in!
For more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to crime-stoppers.org and follow Crime Stoppers on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read past Sundays with Rania posts here.
Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.
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