Changes proposed to Pennsylvania truancy laws after woman's death in jail

Changes proposed to truancy laws after woman's death in jail

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Senate is now joining the House of Representatives in considering changes to the state's truancy laws.

Senators Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, and Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, announced changes they are proposing following the June 7 death of a Reading woman in the Berks County Jail.

Eileen Dinino was serving a 48-hour sentence for not paying fines a magisterial district justice imposed following her sons' absences from school, officials said.

Schwank and Greenleaf are seeking to eliminate the current requirement that a person serve up to five days in jail for not paying truancy fines.

Instead, school districts would be required to set up individualized truancy elimination plans (TEPs), to identify and deal with truancy cases before they must be referred to courts or juvenile authorities.

"Imprisonment does not solve the problem of truancy, and tragedies such as this are completely avoidable," said Greenleaf, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Truancy is a serious problem across the state, and we must implement TEPs and other best practices to bring children and their families back on track. Incarcerating parents is not the answer and, if anything, it only severs to further distress struggling families."

"We must get back to the real issue, which is how to get students in school and keep them there," Schwank added.

If a case subsequently is referred to court, the lawmakers said the judge may still impose a sentence that includes a fine, participation in a parenting education course or community service, but not jail.

On Wednesday, Pa. Rep. Tom Caltagirone, a Democrat, and Pa. Rep. Mark Gillen, a Republican, both from Berks County, introduced "Eileen's Law," which would let judges sentence violators to parenting training or community service instead of jail.

Dinino, 55, was a single mother of seven children who lost her husband in 2011 after a long illness, officials said.

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