The Department of Juvenile Justice and the Richmond County school system are ready to tamp down student truancy rates, and they have the consequences to prove it.
Both groups sent representatives to a community meeting at Spirit Creek Middle School on Thursday night to explain the ramifications of consistent school absences and the punishments both students and parents might face as a result.
Carolyn Johnson, a social worker with the school system, and Felicia Rhodes, a juvenile court Guardian ad Litem, addressed a small group of parents and faculty members from Spirit Creek and Hephzibah Middle schools.
“We here in the (school system) strive for excellence, and we realize it takes a village to raise a child,” Johnson said. “So we want you to take the information we share here tonight back to your communities and spread it to the parents that aren’t here.”
Johnson described the school system’s response to chronic absenteeism by reminding parents who signed a school’s student conduct handbook that “they said they are willing to comply with everything in it.” She added that attendance at a public, private or home study program is mandatory for all students younger than 16.
Schools will send letters and make phone calls to the families of students with more than two unexcused absences. Johnson said
students with five unexcused absences will be reported to her, and she will contact parents to discuss the issue.
If contact is not made within two to three days, the case is referred to Juvenile Court, and parents and child will then be subpoenaed to trial, and those who do not attend their court dates will have a bench warrant issued and fine levied.
“This is serious, parents. This is why you need to keep your contact information updated and get any chronic medical issues that could cause extended absence on file at your schools,” Johnson said. “We have quality teachers here that want to teach your kids … to do that; they need to be at school.”
Rhodes said chronic truancy could lead to fines, probation and possible jail time. She also described some of the services Juvenile Court offers families in need, which range from therapy to assistance with clothing or medication.
“Truancy is huge here. We need to get this under control here,” Rhodes said. “This is a law. There is no way around it. The school social workers, the DJJ, Juvenile Court all have programs we can use to help families struggling with this. We want you to utilize them.”