A Lake View Terrace school has begun charging parents $1 for each minute they are late picking up their kindergarten or pre-kindergarten children, and is threatening to report repeat offenders to the county Department of Child and Family Services.
Administrators at Fenton Avenue Charter School said they adopted the get-tough policy--believed unique among public schools in California--this week to curb chronic tardiness by a handful of parents who sometimes pick up their children hours after dismissal.
“We felt we had a situation that was bordering on neglect,” said Joe Lucente, Fenton’s principal, who uses the title executive director.
Nevertheless, children of parents who are tardy are not likely to be taken away from their families, which the county can do in cases of abuse or neglect, Department of Children and Family Services spokeswoman Victoria Pipkin-Lang said Thursday.
“On the surface it doesn’t sound like we would come out and pick up students who are five minutes late,” said Pipkin-Lang. “If all the nursery schools, child-care centers and [elementary] schools called if the parents are late, we would be overloaded.”
Members of the school’s Student Community Relations Council devised the policy last month after meetings with tardy parents failed to solve the problem.
“Maybe if we are a little more assertive, then the parents will be more responsible and come on time,” said Maria Delinski, a pre-kindergarten teacher.
But some Los Angeles Unified School District officials worry that the San Fernando Valley school’s policy is too extreme.
“As a charter school they have more leeway than district schools. Whether this allows them to react to a problem at their school in this manner is something we’re going to investigate,” said Joe Rao, administrative coordinator for charter schools in the district.
Rao said he is also concerned that the policy does not allow parents to defend themselves against the fines. And he noted that the neighborhood is dominated by low-income families. “What happens if they can’t pay?” he asked.
Fenton is exempt from state education laws that prohibit such fees because it is a charter school--a designation created by state lawmakers to encourage innovation. Financial penalties, however, are common among private day-care centers.
Although a few parents have complained, others say the fines may be the needed.
“I’ve seen some teachers stand outside for a long time with the students waiting and they have other classes to go to,” Maria Fernandez said as she dropped off her 4-year-old son Juan. “I think there are parents who take advantage.”
Most public school principals send a letter to chronically tardy parents urging them to pick up their children on time, said Yolanda Chavez, who oversees school operations for the district. Principals or teachers also can call local police stations if a student is left at the campus past closing, she said.
But Fenton officials say some parents failed to heed their pleas. “At any one time we’d have four children waiting in the office for someone to get them,” said Irene Sumida, director of instruction at Fenton.
Since starting the new policy, Sumida said, more parents are on time. Still, the school collected $16 from one father who was late, and has waived a $108 fine for a mother who was tardy two days in a row. Sumida said she spoke to the mother and worked out a plan for her children to be picked up on time.