You’ve come a long way since the Magna Carta, Great Britain!
In 1215, the Magna Carta — the Great Charter of the Liberties of England — limited government power and guaranteed a host of rights. Now, in 2014, a local government in the West Midlands is preparing to send parents Stewart and Natasha Sutherland to jail because the couple took their three kids on a weeklong vacation near the beginning of the school year.
The situation has escalated because the Sutherlands have refused to pay fines mandated by a controversial set of British laws for parents who fail to ensure that kids go to school, reports the Daily Mail.
Under the new laws, parents must send their kids to school regularly. If they don’t, they face fines and the eventual possibility of jail time.
The vacation occurred in mid-September. It was the family’s first vacation in five years.
The Sutherlands took their brood (Rhiannan, 15; Sian, 13; and Keane, 6) to the Greek island of Rhodes.
As a consequence, school officials fined the couple £360 (just under $600). When the parents refused to pay after 21 days, the fine doubled. Since then, the penalties have increased to £2,000 (almost $3,300).
The Sutherlands now also face the prospect of a three-month prison sentence.
They booked their vacation in Oct. 2012. The draconian guidelines became effective on Sept. 1, 2013.
Stewart Sutherland, who works for the Ministry of Defense Guard Service, said his job and his wife’s job have made it very difficult for the family to find a block of vacation time.
“We haven’t been able to get leave in the school holidays at the same time for five years, and we desperately needed a family break,” he told the Mail.
“I know how important education is, but there’s a bigger picture. Family time is important, too, and the children’s behavior and schooling has improved massively since our holiday together,” he added.
Kay Burford, a school official, begged to differ.
“Our policy supports new legislation which makes it clear that head teachers may not grant any leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances,” she told the Mail.
“There is no automatic right to any leave or holiday in term time,” she added sternly.
Sutherland told the British tabloid that the government is punishing his family for telling the truth.
“I’ve since become aware that other parents just lie and tell the school their kids are ill, but I was upfront from the outset and raise my children to be honest,” he said.
Sutherland has also claimed that a school official advised him that he and his wife had deprived their children “of six days education and should feel guilty.”
“We are their parents; it should be up to us,” the father of three insisted. “We believe quality family time is just as important as schooling.”