Marion County Superintendent Says Crackdown On Parents Yielded High Attendance

Judge Moon May Begin Enforcing Truancy Laws Here

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Marion County School Supt. Mark Griffith said a crackdown on parents whose children were repeatedly absent from school has led to high attendance marks in his school district.

"The day after a judge put two parents in jail we probably had the highest attendance in Marion County history," he said.

And in Hamilton County, General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon said truancy laws need to be enforced here.

He said, "Dr. Scales and school board members should be well versed with Tennessee laws mandating specific requirements of them and other school officials when parents and guardians fail to compel their children's class attendance."

Judge Moon said, "Conceivably, a parent whose child has missed 21 days of unexcused absences could face 21 consecutive 30-day sentences in jail.

"Educating a child is serious business; some parents need to understand this and get their children in school. The law has been on the books since 1947. Up until now, most parents have been responsible parents and enforcement of the statute was unnecessary. Lazy, drug addicted and neglectful parents have given the statute new life and necessary enforcement. Kids in the first through the 9th grade should be the focus. That is the age when parents should have the most ability in controlling their kids. Obviously, when kids reach high school compulsory attendance is more problematical."

Mr. Griffith said Marion County previously was falling below No Child Left Behind standards on truancy, but he began working closely with Judges Jay Blevins and Mark Raines after taking office last July.

He said the school system also used $657,000 in new BEP money to boost its attendance program, including hiring attendance coordinators for each of the nine schools.

He said the coordinators check with parents when students are absent or tardy. He said after several absences, the parents go before a truancy board that includes officials from the schools, from social services and from Juvenile Court.

Mr. Griffith said if that does not work, then parents can be cited to court and, in extreme cases, can be jailed. He said that happened in two cases, prompting the much-higher attendance.

He said Marion County's attendance was at 88-92 percent and now all schools are at the 93 percent required mark or above.

Mr. Griffith said, "The actions taken by the judges certainly got our parents' attention. That's good because, if the kids are not in school, then we can't educate them."

Judge Moon said, "T.C.A. 49-6-3007 states: It is the duty of the principal or teacher of every public, private or parochial school to report promptly to the director of schools,or the director's representative, the names of all children who have withdrawn from school, or who have been absent five (5) days (this means an aggregate of five (5) days during the school year and not necessarily five (5) consecutive days) without adequate excuse. Each successive accumulation of five (5) unexcused absences by a student shall also be reported.

"The statute also mandates that the director of schools shall serve notice to the parent or guardian of the the absences and continue to send notices after 'the accumulation of five unexcused absences.'

"After three days of notice to the parents or guardian if the such parent or guardian fails to comply and have their child in attendance, the statute requires the director of schools in the name of the local school system to report the facts to the sheriff, constable, city police officer, district attorney general or the foreman of the grand jury. At that point, the criminal process should begin against the parent or guardian by means of indictment, arrest warrant or summons.

"The penalty imposed against a failing parent is a maximum term of thirty days in jail and a fine of up to fifty dollars.

"Section 49-6-3009 states: Each days' unlawful absence constitutes a separate offense."

Judge Moon said a financial incentive to enforce the truancy laws against negligent parents, T.C.A. is that T.C.A. 49-6-3011 states: "All moneys collected as fines for violations of this part shall be placed in the public school fund of the local school system in which such child resides."

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