Marion County schools cracking down on truancy

Marion County schools cracking down on truancy

May 21st, 2009 by Chloé Morrison in News

A juvenile court judge in Marion County recently sentenced the mother of a Whitwell Elementary School second grader to 48 hours in jail for not getting her child to school.

School leaders said they are forced to crack down on parents of truant students, because federal law requires schools to have high attendance rates.

"A couple of years ago, we partnered with the local judges and drafted some policies to reflect the requirements of No Child Left Behind," Marion County Director of Schools Mark Griffith said. "It all goes back to No Child Left Behind. These schools are under enormous pressure."

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools and systems make "Adequate Yearly Progress" every year by meeting benchmarks in areas ranging from test scores to attendance.

"We have to meet a benchmark of 93 percent (attendance rate) for the school and for the system," said Mack Reeves, Marion County Schools' director of student services.

Other area school systems also are taking action to prevent truancy.

In neighboring Hamilton County, parents soon may be required to perform community service if their children habitually are truant. On Wednesday, the nine-member County Commission unanimously approved a resolution giving Mayor Claude Ramsey the authority to approve the plan.

In Northwest Georgia, school officials work with parents and students to discover and correct the cause of truancy before taking the issue to courts.

If the problem is not corrected, a complaint against the student can be filed in juvenile court or against the child's parents in magistrate court, Georgia school officials said.

Juvenile Court Judge Jay Blevins recently sentenced Heather Stewart to hours in jail for not getting her second grader to school. Judge Blevins said he gave Mrs. Stewart an opportunity to defend herself and bring in doctors' notes that she said accounted for some of her child's absences. Ultimately, her excuses were not legitimate, he said.

"The only option I had was to sentence her to jail time to show her how serious the board is about this," Judge Blevins said.

Mrs. Stewart could not be reached for comment.

Both the Marion County school system and Whitwell Elementary School are in compliance with federal requirements, according to the state report card.

Mr. Reeves and Judge Blevins said that system policies have helped increase attendance.

Every time a student is absent, an assistant principal makes contact with a parent, Mr. Reeves said. If a student continuously is absent, the parent is called to meet with a truancy board.

"We talk to them and put a plan together (to correct the problem)," Mr. Griffith said. "It could be an issue of transportation; it could be an issue of buying an alarm clock."

In addition to the need to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, absences affect learning, school officials said.

"Teaching and learning - that is what it is focused around," Mr. Griffith said. "Students can't learn if they are not in school."