Tag Archive for 'parents'

Should Leaving Children in Cars Lead to Jail Time or Loss of Custody?

A lot can happen in five minutes. Consider this scenario: A toddler is sleeping in the back seat. Her mother runs off to the store for five minutes. The car is parked in the shade and it’s a cool day.

child neglect left in a carThe child wakes up and finds a small crowd gathered around the vehicle. Strange people are taking pictures with their phones. Mommy tries to save her, but a man in a blue uniform takes Mommy away. The toddler screams and cries as strangers open the car and kidnap her. The toddler is taken to offices and daycares. The little girl is frightened and just wants to go home with her mom.

Most good Samaritans who see children left alone in vehicles take down the license number, call the police, and drive away after the officer arrives. They usually don’t see what happens after the arrest is made and the child is taken. So let me fill in the blanks:

If the parent is charged with child neglect or one of the numerous variations, the parent will be in jail until bail is posted. Depending on the state and county, the case might be heard in juvenile or criminal court. The child is either taken home if there is a caretaker or to protective services. If the parent has the money, the parent can hire a criminal defense attorney. If not, the parent risks significant jail time and losing custody of the child.

Let that sink in for a second. Leaving your child in the car could result in losing custody of the child. Most comments online are along the lines of “Good. Doesn’t deserve to be a parent.” Obviously there isn’t a lot of sympathy for the parents of these children, but I urge readers to consider the children inside the system.

A young child doesn’t know anything about the risks of a hot car or abductions. The toddler is probably sleeping in the back seat or playing with a toy. The toddler only knows her parents were taken away. Removing a toddler from the custody of her parents will mentally and emotionally scar a child for life. Being dragged through the system, even briefly, can emotionally harm a child.

In some cases, removing a child from the custody of a parent is the correct answer. But those situations should be rare. In benign situations like leaving a child in a car, the process and the end game will psychologically damage the children. It is extremely ironic that we protect children from potential physical harm by inflicting emotional pain on them.

What’s Best for the Child Is What’s Best for Society

Leaving a child alone in a car can be dangerous. Children have died when left unattended in an overheated car. And there have been a few cases where parents intentionally leave their children in the car to die. It’s good that we live in a world where people are watching out for kids. However, sending all children and harmless parents through the criminal justice does not help the children. Like the “war on drugs,” society cannot use criminal sanctions to punish otherwise harmless behavior. The results will be horrifying and will have a long impact on society.

Children can be removed from the custody of parents if the parent leaves the child unattended in a car because of prosecutors’ discretion. Prosecutors have the authority to decide what type of crime they can charge defendants with. If a parent leaves a child in a car unattended, the prosecutor can bring a charge of child endangerment. In many states, child endangerment can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If the charge is a felony, the child can be removed from the defendant’s custody.

The problem is that that kind of punishment for a minor incident is absolutely absurd. A small fine or an order to attend parenting classes should be sufficient. There should be enough punishment to send a message that children can die if left unattended, but not so severe that the family itself is threatened. Children can and do die if left unattended in a car. However, going over the speed limit could also potentially put the child’s life in danger. Yet nobody in their right mind would approve of removing child custody over a speeding ticket.

If hardened criminals deserve proportional justice, then new parents should also have punishments that fit the crime. Instead of treating these cases like child molestation, these cases should be at the level of traffic tickets.

Should Parents Be Taxed or Fined for Not Vaccinating Their Children?

Vaccinations became a popular talking point after the Disneyland measles outbreak occurred earlier this year. The topic became very divisive and individuals were either pro or anti-vaccinations. Regardless of which side you are on, it is undeniable that there is a rise in unvaccinated children in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • The national average of school children vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is 95%, but this number is not consistent throughout all 50 states.
  • 26 states have not reached the national goal of 95% and fall far below.

children vaccineThe average number of vaccinated children varies from state to state due to various state exemptions and vaccination requirements.

  • 48 states allow parents to opt out of vaccinations through religious exemptions.
  • 20 states allow parents to opt out based on philosophical exemptions.
  • States also provide for medical exemptions for children going through chemotherapy or other health treatments that would not allow for vaccinations.

Due to the rising number of children not partaking in vaccinations and the spread of deadly diseases like the measles, many want to know if parents can be held legally accountable for not vaccinating their children.

The cost of outbreaks can be high for both families affected by the disease and the general public. For example, a single case of measles can cost state agencies more than $10,000 to track and stop the spread of the disease.

Due to the economic and physical harms that anti-vaccination can cause, some are calling for vaccine taxation or even more severe penalties, such as legal liability. Proponents of a vaccine tax want non-vaccinating parents to front the bill for these costs. The proposed procedure is to impose fees or have parents pay a charge up-front for not vaccinating.

Many supporters of the tax believe that it’s justified because it would be a deterrent for parents who do not vaccinate their children. Also, supporters believe it would be fair to parents that do vaccinate their children because they wouldn’t be force to pay for the risks taken by non-vaccinating parents.

On the other hand, many people are skeptical that this solution would work because tracking down the unvaccinated individual responsible for the outbreak would be difficult. Still, many are in support of taxes because they believe money is a great motivator that can change an individual’s behavior and choices with regards to vaccines.

States have yet to adopt these taxing laws, so there really isn’t a definitive answer to whether these penalties will be effective or not. Only time will tell if vaccination trends will naturally change or are influenced by government intervention.

Florida School Fakes Shooting as a Drill – Why This Is a Terrible Idea

It’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning. You’re at work when you suddenly get a text message from your child. Your child’s message is only one line, but it sends a chill down your spine: “I thought he was going to shoot me.”

school shooting drillYou immediately leave your office. You get to the car and race down to the school. You run a couple of red lights along the way. There are dozens of other parents in the parking lot. Police have their weapons drawn. Nobody knows what is going on. Your heart is pounding. Despite police warnings, you go inside the school and find your child hudled in a corner with a few other classmates. As you take your child out of the school, an announcement comes over the school announcement system. The “shooting” was only a drill.

This “active shooter” drill took place at Jewett Middle Academy in Winter Haven, Florida. On November 13, the school principal announced the school was going into lockdown. Police burst into classrooms with guns drawn, including an AR-15 rifle. The weapons were unloaded, but nobody informed the children. Actually, the school principal and the Winter Haven Police Department neglected to inform parents or even teachers. Parents only found out about the drill through an email after the drill was over.

Winter Haven police have attempted to defend their drill. Officers claim their weapons were unloaded and pointed at the ground. The drill was supposed to simulate the surprise that children, teachers, and parents felt had there been a real shooting. However, the Winter Haven police did acknowledge that feedback was mixed and promised that officers would not use weapons in future drills.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, many states, including Florida, New Jersey, Colorado Tennessee and Missouri have enacted “active shooter drills.” Some of these drills have included volunteers to play hostages and victims. Other drills were more like Winter Haven, where children, parents and teachers were scared senseless. In many drills, an officer acts a gunman and takes “hostages.” Some schools go so far as to use fake blood.

One Terrible Idea

The Winter Haven “drill” is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard. What if a parent or a teacher heard that there was a shooter and decided that now was the time to use their gun? The hypothetical fire fight that police and school principals were practicing for might become real. Given that many people believe arming teachers is the solution, that’s a very real possibility. The opposite result could also occur. Fire drills have become so common that people often take them for granted. It would be extremely ironic if schools had so many drills that when a real shooter shows up some people might not realize it before the shooter starts killing people.

Winter Haven police claim that they didn’t inform the community about their drill because they wanted to create the surprise that comes from a shooting. We have plenty of fire or earthquake drills and nobody proposes that we should heat or shake buildings to replicate the terror of a fire or earthquake. Indeed, some elderly individuals or young children might have heart conditions that could be triggered if the “drills” go so far as to terrify them.

In California, we conduct earthquake drills because earthquakes are a likely possibility that could occur and we have little in the way of a warning system. In the mid-west, we practice tornado drills because tornados will arise and we can’t stop tornados. We prepare for natural disasters with drills because there’s little else we can do about those disasters.

School shootings are very different. School shootings appear to be becoming more common, but they are far from natural. We cannot do anything to prevent earthquakes, but we can do far more to address school shootings. Arming teachers is a possibility. Treating more mentally ill people is another option. Creating or expanding insurance for depression and mental health is a good alternative. My point is that school shootings don’t have to be common and they don’t have to be unpreventable forces of nature. School shootings are the results of sick individuals in what some call a sick society. It’s a bad idea to equalize human actions with acts of god.

These drills concede that we cannot stop shootings. These drills treat shooters like faceless natural disasters, such as earthquakes, fires, or tornados. The problem is that the shooters are human. Potential shooters can be treated so that they don’t become the unstoppable beasts of destruction that the drills will treat them as. If we mischaracterize the nature of these shootings, we will only bring more harm upon our children.

Beware Drug-Laced Halloween Candy

Halloween is supposed to be scary, but not like this. Discovering that a child’s candy has been laced with drugs is a kind of fright that no one should have to experience.

halloween candyHave you heard the story about the little girl who ate the poisoned candy? How about the story of the boy who cut his mouth on a razor blade hidden in his candy bar? These and similar stories have been around for several decades. In reality, there have been few reports of poisoned Halloween candy and many of the stories have actually turned out to be false. However, it has happened. For example, in 2000, a man was convicted of tampering with Snickers bars by sticking needles inside the candy, which resulted in a child cutting himself with the needle before eating it.

Even though there are very few reports of this nature, parents are still scared about the contents inside their children’s Halloween candy. Checking candy and ensuring its safety is not a difficult process. You can check the safety of your children’s candy without having to send it through a technical x-ray or manually going through each candy bar. Checking Halloween candy includes looking for any evidence of tampering or looking for anything that appears to be suspicious or handmade by a stranger.

Helpful tips for parents this Halloween:

  1. Always warn your children that you or another authorized adult must check their candy before they eat it. If temptation is a problem, give them your own candy to eat as a snack while they are out trick-or-treating.
  2. Caution your children not to eat any opened candy, handmade candy, or drink any beverages that were offered to them while trick-or-treating.
  3. Examine each candy under bright lights and check for any lumps, opened areas, ripped wrappers, loose wrappers, or stapled parts.
  4. Check candy from manufacturers or brands you have never heard of.
  5. Throw away handmade candy or candy that has been placed manually in twist wrappers.
  6. Throw away any fruit that was given out as a treat.
  7. Try to go to neighborhoods and houses that you are familiar with or have gone to in the past.

Since it is very easy to obtain marijuana and other drugs these days (especially with the less strict marijuana laws in, Washington, Colorado, and other states), ingesting pot in candy can easily lead to overdoses in children. Even though drug-laced candy can be tough to spot and there have been very little incidents of these incidents, worried parents should always check all Halloween candy to ensure that the packaging hasn’t been tampered with or opened by a stranger.

Should High School Teachers Get Tenure?

Imagine if you could be fired because your employer doesn’t like your political background. Did you watch the Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address? You’re gone. Do you oppose same-sex marriage? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

teacher tenureMany employees face this issue every day. Employment in the United States is at-will, so anyone can be fired as long as the employer doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion. However, in many states, teachers are protected from this type of employer scrutiny. Why shouldn’t teachers be bound to the same employment laws as the rest of us?

In Los Angeles, nine high school students are posing this question in court. The students are challenging five California statutes which the students believe have a discriminatory impact on them. The students claim that California’s tenure system protects ineffective teachers and that most of those teachers are located in schools which are made up of racial minorities.

Three of the statutes are procedural laws which requires years of documentation just to fire a teacher. The fourth statute requires schools to grant or deny tenure to teachers after only 18 months of work. The fifth statute is California’s “last in, first out” statute. This type of law requires schools to let go of junior teachers before senior members of the staff. Teacher unions, the state Department of Education, and Governor Brown are defending the laws. They claim that removing the tenure laws would lower moral, violate the teachers’ due process, and unfairly discriminate against older teachers.

It is somewhat unreasonable to complain that older teachers might be discriminated against if the tenure laws were removed. Although age discrimination has been defined as discrimination against people who are 40 or over, the reality is that “last in, first out” laws often discriminates against young teachers. That is equally unjust, but it also makes little sense to defend older teachers over younger teachers. Younger teachers are more likely to have relevant job or college experience which they can pass on to their students. Students can also relate to younger teachers more easily. Granted, not all younger teachers are better than older teachers. In any case, shouldn’t merit decide who stays and who leaves?

Of course, that question is partly the reason tenure was given to teachers in the first place. Who decides what merit is? Students can’t be trusted because they’d be biased and short-sighted, as would their parents. Teachers in Kansas face intense pressure about teaching evolution in science classes. Some parents freak when Harry Potter or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are on the summer reading list. There are also parents who seem to care more about their child’s football games than their child’s math scores.

Although students and parents might want to remove teachers who present controversial materials, those are the teachers society should keep. When students are presented with material that they aren’t exposed to at home, they will learn critical thinking skills that Americans need to succeed in a global economy. A high school graduate should be able to accurately explain how evolution works and what questions the theory of evolution answers or doesn’t answer, regardless of the student’s or the parents’ own beliefs about the subject.

However, promoting critical thinking does not directly tie into tenure. If the state wanted to protect teachers from political pressure, the state could easily make a statute doing so. Even if anti-discrimination laws didn’t exist when tenure was first created for university professors in 1990, they exist today for race, religion, and gender. It would not be difficult to extend such protection to political expression. Instead, California and other states keep an outdated system which protects teachers more than it helps students.