District attorney to crack down on truancy violators

Published 10:17am Tuesday, May 21, 2013

District Attorney Joe Mulholland said he and local school officials will “get tough” on making sure parents keep their children in school.

Mulholland said he has been working with Decatur County school officials — including Superintendent Fred Rayfield, Performance Learning Center Director Dana Bryant and school social worker Allison Harrell — to revise the attendance protocol that is intended to address and decrease truancy in county schools.

“The protocol reflects a partnership between various local agencies, offices and individuals to promote the educational progress of children and families in Decatur County,” states the document, which was created by a Student Attendance Protocol Committee.

The protocol, which are intended to be general guidelines, detail what actions school officials and others will take in response when various conditions are met, such as a child having a certain amount of absences or unexcused tardies.

In general, students who are late to school 10 or more times in a school year or have 10 unexcused absences face serious consequences, including referral of the child to outside support agencies, including the Department of Family and Children Services, law enforcement and Juvenile Court.

Mulholland said he recently met with some of the parents of 15 students who had already reached those number of tardies or absences in the current school year.

“We put them on notice that, for the next school year, after their student reaches 10 unexcused absences, we will take out a warrant for the arrest of the parent or guardian,” Mulholland said.

Twelve of the parents showed up to meet with Mulholland, and school officials and sign a contract stating they were aware of attendance policies. However, the guardians of three students didn’t bother to show up, so the district attorney plans to indict them during the next seating of the grand jury for violation of state law.

A 2004 Georgia law requires any parents or guardians of a child between the ages of 6 and 16 to enroll and send that child to school, including public and private schools or home schooling, or face a $100 fine and 30 days in jail for each violation. The law specifies that each day’s absence constitutes a separate offense.

“Being a parent is a privilege; it takes work,” said Mulholland, who is also a father. “When you have a child, you undertake certain responsibilities for their well-being. In our world, sending a child to school is the only viable solution for them to be successful in life.”

Mulholland said truancy is a serious problem that, in addition to hurting individual students, negatively affects local school funding, property tax rates and crime rates. Mulholland said two-thirds of the inmates in the Georgia prison system do not have a high school diploma or GED.

Revised School Attendance Protocol (Word document)

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