Parents arrested for not sending children to school
Published 10:46 am Wednesday, January 30, 2019
By Beth Alston
AMERICUS — When all else fails, the law is on the school system’s side. Several arrests were noticed on the Americus Police Department’s reports last week, charging the individuals with “mandatory education for children between [ages] 6 and 15.” This means they are accused of not making sure their children are in school, in violation of a state law.
Jimmy Green, attendance officer for the Sumter County School system, said that once those arrests were published in Saturday’s edition of the Americus Times-Recorder, there was a large number of parents at the schools on Monday morning trying to justify their children’s absences.
The Times-Recorder talked at length earlier this week with Green, and Torrance Choates, Ed.D., Sumter County Schools superintendent, about the problem of truancy in the school system.
Green revealed that he now has 21 truancy cases, all made since the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, awaiting hearings in the Sumter County Magistrate Court. Those hearings for the parents/guardians are scheduled for Feb. 21 and 28, before Chief Magistrate Judge Connie Johnson.
Green explained the school system’s protocol for dealing with absences. Two absences result in a phone call to the parent/guardian; three result in a notification letter sent to the parent/guardian reminding them of the possible penalties/consequences of absences as well as explaining attendance expectations.
Five unexcused absences result in the parent/guardian meeting with the Attendance Support Team to identify and implement strategies to deter continued absenteeism. At this point, the case is referred to a school social worker who will contact the parent/guardian or make a home visit to remind them of the possible penalties/consequences of the misdemeanor violation. The school social worker will continue to assess the attendance problem, increase the use of strategies to get the parent/guardian to comply, and refer the case to community agencies.
Six unexcused absences result in the truancy complaint being completed by the school counselor or designee and forwarded to the truancy officer by the attendance officer. After seven unexcused absences, a notification letter is sent to the parent/guardian, again reminding them of the possible penalties/consequences and explanation of attendance exceptions.
Even after this exhaustive process, some parents/guardians still do not comply. When the problem reaches 10 unexcused absences, a criminal warrant is filed with the Magistrate Court for violation of Georgia’s Compulsory Attendance Law. A subpoena is delivered and if the parent/guardian doesn’t show up for court, a warrant is served. Green said they are actually handcuffed and taken to jail where they are required to either post a bond or remain in jail until a hearing before the court.
The superintendent believes there is no excuse, being that there are so many ways around it getting to the point of arrest. Students are allowed three handwritten excuses from their parents/guardians per semester. After that, they are required to produce an excuse from a physician. Students can also be absent due to the death of a grandparent, parent or sibling, or some extenuating circumstance.
In some cases, Green said, the problem with absenteeism is that the student is suspended from riding the school bus, and then has no other way to get to school.
“If they [students] don’t show up to school, we can’t educate them,” Choates said. “There is no excuse. We have buses.”
Green commented that most of the truancy problems are in the lower grades. “Students in pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grades are the cases going to court now.” He added that there are a few from the middle grades.
When asked if parents have trouble getting their children to attend school because of employment problems, Green said the majority of these cases involve parents who do not work, “so they have to know their kids are not going to school.” He said the majority of the student offenders are from single-parent households. “It’s very rare for me to ever have to take a husband and wife to court,” he said.
The problem with truancy, to the current extent, is relatively new, according to Choates. “Back in the day, kids used to come to school,” he said. “You’ve got to take education seriously. We’re trying to get these kids to the next level, get them into college. If they don’t show up, we can’t educate them. … There’s no excuse for it [truancy]…. We’ve got buses.”
Choates wants to send the following message: “We’re serious about education … about educating our students. We’ve beefed up the school system in general. That’s from discipline all the way up to academic achievement to involvement … the opportunity that we’re providing for these students is astronomical. All they’ve got to do is just work with us. Be the parents that we used to have 30 or 40 years … Help get your child to school and please be involved in your child’s education. If we can do that, we can have a college-ready student after 12 or 13 years of education. … That’s our main goal.”
Choates praised Green for the “outstanding job” he’s done, and stresses that the system is redoubling its efforts. “He’s [Green] been hitting it harder than I’ve seen since I’ve been here [three years]. This is going to be the norm. We’re going to start at the beginning of the year, and we’re not going to let it slip. It seems we’ve been playing the see-saw game but … we’re dead serious about it. It’s not fun for us for parents to be locked up with their children watching. We don’t like to see that. But if that sends a message and that gets their attention … ”
Green said another problem is tardiness. He said some parents send their kids to school mid-morning which is very disruptive for the ongoing class and for the other students who arrive on time. He said it does not reflect well with the judge when he has to tell her that a student has 10 unexcused absences and 35 tardies.
After the magistrate court is finished with the parent/guardian offenders, Green takes the case files over to the District Attorney’s Office and the cases go to State Court. He said some of the offenders have been to court two or three times.
In addition to being absent or tardy, the school system also frowns on parents taking their kids out of school early.
“During the breaks we have, the holidays, and after school” are the times for scheduling dental appointments,” he said. “If you go to the dentist for a cleaning, you don’t have to be out all day. … They [parents] need to work with us. We’re doing a lot of the work and we need their help.”
“At the end of the day, it all comes back to the parents. It’s about holding them accountable. … Now no one is disciplining [at home],” he said.
After 10 consecutive days of truancy, the school system has the right to withdraw the student from school. That action requires a meeting with the principal and the parents who will have to sign an attendance contract and share their plan to correct the issue. If not, the student can no longer attend the school system. They will have to find another school because of in Georgia, school attendance it compulsory until age 16.
Choates and Green both said if parents would just answer their phone calls or return them, and make sure the school has their kids’ correct address, these problems could be corrected sooner than later.
As soon as these 21 cases are cleared, Green has some more cases that will require arrests and court appearances.
Choates hopes this is the last year they will have these problems in the school system because making examples of the guilty parents/guardians will serve as a warning to others. “This needs to be the last year we go through this,” he said. “Parents should know what our expectations are, what the attendance law is, and need to abide by it. It makes everybody’s job easier.”
Green has held this position since 2006, and said he has made more than 400 cases against parents/guardians who don’t make sure their children attend school. Many are repeat offenders, he said.
Choates said that Green has been more proactive dealing with truancy, in an effort to get ahead of the problem. He also said that many do not realize that attendance plays a huge role in the school system’s CCRPI scores. “If they’re not at school, they’re not meeting their standards. Maximum standards are 90 percent of the CCRPI score,” Choates said.
Green works closely with the Juvenile Court and its truancy officer, Stephen Woodson. After six unexcused absences, Green’s office reaches out to Woodson, who visits the student’s home in an attempt to meet with the parent/guardian.