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Mom Charged with Neglect for Taking Son with Her to Adopt Brother

The Short of It

Have you ever taken your child out of school for a family trip? We have, and our school has been pretty accommodating. Many families that I know have done this, but did you know that you could end up in court—or worse—jail for child neglect? A single mom in the Washington, D.C. area learned this lesson the hard way.

The Lowdown

Jessica Smith, 48, is a single mom. For three years, her adopted son, Ziggy, begged for a little brother. Finally, last year, the orphanage in Mongolia where she had adopted Ziggy had a baby boy available. She could finally give Ziggy that baby brother he'd been wanting.

Currently, D.C. law forbids excusing more than 10 consecutive absences without a doctor's note, court note or an emergency. Jessica knew there was no way the adoption agency could properly vet her and have paperwork finalized in 10 days.

As a single mom with no family to care for Ziggy, she decided the trip would be an amazing opportunity for him to experience the country he was born in and to be part of the momentous occasion. She also knew bringing Ziggy with her could only help the adoption process, since he's living proof that she is a capable and loving adoptive parent. Plus, Mongolia requires that all children adopted to families outside of the country maintain a connection to their heritage.

Jessica contacted the school's principal, Peter Young, to see if the trip could fall under the "emergency" umbrella. The email exchange led Jessica to believe that she had permission and that the absences would be excused. She got a study plan, lugged the homework across the world and hired a tutor in Mongolia to help Ziggy with his studies. After they returned home, she received no calls or e-mails from Principal Young, and Ziggy finished second grade and started third grade in August.

The Upshot

A few weeks ago, Jessica was served with a summons to appear in court for a criminal neglect charge because Ziggy was absent from school for 20 days more than 1 year ago. When Jessica contacted Principal Young, he said it was a miscommunication and he planned to help resolve the situation. The case was dismissed after Principal Young wrote a letter dismissing the absences.

However, this situation has caused Jessica to lose faith in the school system. The truancy laws are in place to catch kids who fall through the cracks and hold parents accountable but instead she believes D.C.'s strict rules are punishing all parents regardless of circumstances.

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