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Visiting the Sins of the Children Upon the Parents

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When the new principal at Denison Middle School in Lake Geneva, Wis., decided to crack down on tardiness, he crafted a policy that was tough but fair.

Late students would face a 40-minute detention period after school--but their parents could serve the time if they owned up to causing the delay.

Since January, when the policy went into effect, seven parents--all mothers--have agreed to serve their child's detention, said Principal Erwin Roth last week. Twenty-one other parents have confessed but declined to serve time.

The idea, the principal said, is to stress parental responsibility and foster a sense of "the home, school, and community all working together.''

Although there has been widespread support for the policy, Mr. Roth said the school board was divided "along sexual lines'' over the issue. In a nonbinding vote rejecting the measure, the three women on the five-member board registered the fact, Mr. Roth said, that they "didn't like the idea of moms serving detention.''

Mr. Roth plans to continue enforcing the policy, however, while trying to expand the penalty options available to parents. So far, the adult detainees have spent their sentences writing letters or copying recipes in a room away from the students, he said. But in the future, they might have the choice of chaperoning a dance, monitoring study hall, correcting papers, or performing some other, student-related function.

Mr. Roth expressed confidence that, as parents become more aware of their contribution to school progress, community involvement will grow as the tardiness rate declines.

And, he added, the board's concern that only mothers will volunteer their services may prove unwarranted. Last week, he was discussing the detention option for the first time with a father.--J.W.

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