News and Commentary

Kamala Harris Regrets Parents Arrested Over Her 2011 Truancy Law

In an effort to distance herself from the “Narc” label that has permeated her campaign from the outset, making her less appealing to the Democratic Party’s progressive base, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) now says she regrets having “criminalized parents” by helping to pass a truancy law in 2011, according to HuffPost.

Kamala Harris helped pass the law while district attorney of San Francisco. The law imposed fines and jail time on parents whose children had a 10% unexcused school absence record and was even one of Harris’ signature issues.

“Harris championed the law in the state legislature after she successfully reduced truancy in San Francisco by threatening to prosecute parents under a more dated law,” reports HuffPost.

Harris made truancy a cornerstone issue after having learned a disproportionate number of homicides in her city were caused by high school dropouts. “We are putting parents on notice,” Harris said at her 2011 inauguration. “If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law.”

Speaking with “Pod Save Amerca,” Harris now regrets having penalized parents so harshly by turning them into criminals for their child’s truancy.

“My regret is that I have now heard stories where in some jurisdictions, DAs have now criminalized the parents,” Harris said. “And I regret that that has happened and the thought that anything that I did could have led to that.”

“I realized that the system was failing these kids, not putting the services in place to keep them in school, to make it easier for parents to do what parents naturally wanted to do around parenting their children,” she continued. “And so I put a spotlight on it. As a result of doing that, we ended up increasing attendance by over 30% because we actually required the system then to kick in and do the services that they were required to do and sometimes had available, but they weren’t doing outreach with the parents. And so that was the whole purpose.”

This newfound regret Harris has about her prosecutorial background follows an article that the Huffington Post published about a mother in Orange County, Cheree Peoples, whose daughter missed school due to chronic illness but got arrested anyway. From the report:

Shayla frequently missed school because she was in too much pain to leave the house or was hospitalized for long-term care. Her school was aware of these circumstances; it had records on file from the regional children’s hospital explaining that Shayla’s condition would necessitate unpredictable absences and special educational accommodations. Peoples and the school had worked together to set up some of those accommodations, which are required under federal disability law. At the time of her arrest, Peoples claims she was fighting with the school to get it to agree to additional accommodations under an Individualized Education Plan, which she said the school had rejected.

Harris has made similar pivots on her prosecutorial past. Most recently, she supported the decriminalization of sex work, a complete reversal of what she said in her 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” in which she argued that prostitutes should be arrested. “Smart always starts with enforcing the law ― we must arrest the prostitutes as well as the pimps and the johns,” she wrote at the time.