APSD, district court getting serious about student truancy
While it may sound funny to ask “Who wants to go to jail” for not sending children to school, some parents who “ditched” a mandatory meeting with District Judge Billy Bennett earlier this week are learning it’s no joke.
The Avoyelles Parish School Board and the parish’s judicial system began mandatory meetings with parents of students with excessive unexcused absences, the board’s Education Committee was told at its Jan. 30 meeting. Parents who do not attend the meetings will be issued a summons to appear in court for violating the state’s compulsory attendance law.
The first meeting was held this past Monday, with Marksville High School parents meeting with Bennett at the courthouse. Another meeting was held Tuesday in Simmesport for Riverside Elementary parents.
Five parents failed to show up for the Marksville meeting. Two of those students are over the legal age of 18. However, summonses were issued for the other three, ordering them to appear in court on a charge of violating the state’s compulsory attendance law.
At Riverside Elementary, Sheriff Doug Anderson oversaw the meeting. Only one of six parents attended the meeting.
The school system is checking to see why the other parents’ did not attend the mandatory meeting. At least four summonses will be filed for the parents to appear in court.
Bennett told the board in November that he would hand down a 90-day sentence to any parent violating the compulsory attendance law.
He noted he would suspend the sentence if the parent agrees to ensure the child will return to school and attend school every day for the rest of the school year. If those terms are not followed, the parent or student would serve the 90-day sentence.
Child Welfare & Attendance Supervisor Jennifer Dismer told board members that the children of the parents who missed the Monday meeting were all in class at Marksville High the next day.
Other meetings scheduled include Monday (Feb. 5) at Cottonport Elementary, with attorney Derek Manual; Thursday (Feb. 8) at Plaucheville Elementary, with Assistant District Attorney Jenny Donaghey-Beckham; at Avoyelles High next Thursday (Feb. 15) with District Attorney Charles Riddle; and at Lafargue Elementary on Feb. 20, with Families in Need of Services (FINS) officer Greg Jackson.
Meeting dates have not been scheduled for the other schools.
Those meetings will take place later this month and be run by either 12th Judicial District Judge Kerry Spruill, Assistant District Attorney Tony Salario or Ward 10/Bunkie City Judge Derrick “Digger” Earles.
A past problem of not serving truancy summonses unless the parent was stopped for another offense has been resolved. Dismer told board members that those summonses will be served as they are issued.
Anderson confirmed Wednesday morning, following the poorly attended Riverside meeting for parents, that APSO s deputies “will be serving the summonses as they come in. I was very disappointed at the attendance of the meeting at Riverside Elementary.”
Dismer said parents are being called to the meetings if their child has 13 or more unexcused absences this school year.
As of earlier this month, 146 students fell into that category.
Not all of the 146 are “playing hooky.” Some are believed to have transferred to schools outside of Avoyelles Parish but never officially withdrew from the Avoyelles school system.
School officials have to confirm where the student is now attending school before they can drop them from the school’s rolls.
Until that happens, the students are enrolled in the school and marked absent.
“I go over each student carefully before having a summons issued,” Dismer said. “I look at each case to determine if a summons is needed.”
At this time, the school district is looking at students with 13 or more absences. Eventually, the district will work with the court system to have parents meet with the judges when the child has eight unexcused absences.