18 Florida Parents Arrested in Truancy Roundup

In a major effort to combat school truancy, 18 parents have been arrested in Jacksonville, Florida for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and failure to comply with compulsory school attendance laws.

The Florida Times-Union‘s Dan Scanlan reports that once an arrest warrant has been filed, the parents in question are offered assistance and counseling on the school level and then are referred to the Truancy Arbitration Program of the State Attorney's Office. Arresting a parent, however, is a last resort.

The 18 parents were among the 44 parents being sought in the same "warrant sweep." The remaining parents are at large or are going to turn themselves in, according to officials.

Upon conviction, parents could receive up to a year in jail for the delinquency charge and up to 60 days for failure to comply. One parent, Charlie Thorton, said his daughters, 8 and 11, missed 30 days of school last year because of a skin disease. He added that they were in Georgia with their grandmother during the 80 days they missed the year before that.

"I know my kids have never missed that many days and they have passed every year," he said. "… They were with their grandmother and they were enrolled in Georgia, and they failed to transfer all the information back to Jacksonville. That has to be it. How can you miss that many days of school and still pass?"

Lucius Corbitt III has a daughter who missed 40 days of school over a three-year period because she was in and out of doctor's offices and had foot surgery, according to Corbitt. He said that she was still on the honor roll and is a good student in middle school.

"It is all BS. Maybe there are some kids whose parents didn't want to send them to school, but when my child missed school my wife and I got makeup work and she passed," Corbitt said. "… Most days she missed we had doctor's documentation, but it is so hard to get someone at the School Board. It really is crap."

By and large, truant students are elementary-age with five unexcused absences during a 30-day period, or 10 out of 90. The referrals to the State Attorney's Office have gone up from 342 in 2010 to 440 in 2011 to 446 last year.

The child's school is the first entity to work with the parents on attendance problems. The district can also offer an attendance intervention team with a social worker, school and district officials, and the Youth Crisis Center. Even financial services are available if that is what is keeping the student out of school.

If the child is missing school because of medical reasons, the parents are asked to produce doctor's letter. Then, the parents sign a contract that could include counseling and parenting classes. After all of this is completed, parents are tracked for a year to establish their commitment to having their children in class.

In many cases children are missing multiple grade advancements because of truancy, writes Lisa Suhay, reporting for The Christian Science MonitorJackie Bernard, director of communications for the Duval County District Attorney's Office, said:

"Multiple efforts were made to help these families and work with them. The schools tried repeatedly and when that didn't have any effect it went to the courts and our Truancy Arbitration Program at the State Attorney's Office. When that failed what was left was arrest."

The Truancy Prevention website informs readers about the types of families that are prone to truancy: parents who do not value education; parents who did not complete school; those who were truant themselves; families who have low socioeconomic status; single-parent families; and multiple child families. Students who miss a large number of school days are typically children who: have low grades in reading and math; struggle with learning disabilities; have trouble making friends with mainstream students or teachers; or have negative feelings toward school and teachers.

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