Legislation would change PA truancy laws after Berks mom dies in prison

State Sens. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) and Judy Schwank (D-Berks) today announced changes they are proposing to state law following the death of a Reading woman while she was jailed for truancy charges in Berks County Prison.

Eileen DiNino, a 55-year-old mother of seven, died of undetermined causes June 7 as she was serving a 48-hour sentence for not paying fines a magisterial district justice imposed following her sons’ absences from school. The legislation Schwank and Greenleaf are proposing would remove the current requirement that a person serve up to five days in jail for not paying truancy fines and replace it with the requirement that school districts set up individualized Truancy Elimination Plans. TEPs, as they are called, use best practices to identify and deal with truancy cases before they reach the point where 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.”

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“We must get back to the real issue, which is how to get students in school and keep them there,” said Schwank, who represents the district where DiNino lived and the prison is based.

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

From the office of Sen. Judy Schwank