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Hey, any school skippers out there -- watch out. Schools have had enough and are starting to crack down hard. That's the word from a recent story in The New York Times. Sure, truancy laws and punishments have been around for ages, but according to the Times story, schools are losing patience and are starting to actually enforce those laws or create tougher ones. Some schools are even going after kids' parents. In two examples given, a grand jury in Brewton, Ala., last spring indicted 10 parents of chronically late kids on misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $100 fine. In Springfield, Ill., six moms were charged with a misdemeanor for letting their kids cut classes, facing up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Other states, from California to Maryland, are pushing tougher truancy laws through their state legislatures. And in a New York City test program, parents on welfare risk losing benefits if their kids skip school. In other words, if you cut classes to play, your parents (and ultimately you) pay! Some people and groups, such as The American Civil Liberties Union, say it's unfair to punish one person for someone else's action; also, many say, such laws backfire, because it will be even harder to get kids to go to school if their parents are in jail. Still, you probably can expect fed-up schools to continue the crackdown.


What tops the list of threats to kids? Try teen pregnancy, abuse and neglect at home, poor schools and lack of health care. There's also substance abuse, poverty, absent parents, crime and dangers to the environment. Depressed yet? You shouldn't be, say authors of the new report, "Ten Critical Threats to America's Children: Warning Signs for the Next Millennium." That's because for every problem identified in the report, a solution is suggested -- like raising the minimum wage and universal health care. The report is the combined effort of the National Schools Boards Association, the National League of Cities, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital and Youth Crime Watch of America.


You've seen the studies and heard the experts bemoaning the fact that families don't spend enough time together. But a panel of teens recently told USA Today that's just how they like it! One kid, 14-year-old Marissa Robillard, said, "I wouldn't be caught anywhere outside my house with my parents." Still, more experts told the newspaper that some of that's just bravado; that what kids say and what they need can be two different things. OK, so you know family is important, even when they get on your nerves, right? So it wouldn't kill you to spend a little time with the folks and sibs sometimes. Here's another tip you can pass on to your folks: Kids say they're happier to spend time with their parents if their parents listen to them and make them feel like their voice counts. Hey, isn't this all common sense?

-- Knight Ridder

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