Pupils who misbehave are in for a rude awakening, Richmond County school and law enforcement officials said Thursday.
District Attorney Danny Craig, Superintendent Charles Larke, Juvenile Court Judge Herbert Kernaghan and Sheriff Ronnie Strength held a joint news conference to remind parents and pupils that school starts Monday and so does the new truancy policy.
"This is a problem in the past that we really haven't had any definite procedures for," Judge Kernaghan said.
The county's policy defines a truant as a pupil with more than five unexcused absences during an academic year.
After five absences, a parent must provide a doctor's note or a note from another acceptable third party.
After five unexcused absences, the pupil will be brought to court and could face a separate misdemeanor offense for each unexcused day. The penalty could be a fine up to $100, jail time up to 30 days, community service or a combination of those penalties.
"I'm going to give them a warning the first time, and then it's shame on them," the judge said. "If necessary," he said, he'll lock them up.
Of particular concern to Judge Kernaghan are children 12 and younger. Parents of these children will be held accountable for their absences and could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The judge said he's run a zero-tolerance courtroom for two or three years.
"Believe it or not, the word gets out among the students," he said.
After a week's grace period, the truancy policy will be enforced.
Mondays in juvenile court will be dedicated to truancy violations. They had been heard once a month.
Although truancy was the main issue addressed during the news conference, the officials also stressed that they are serious about addressing all delinquent behavior.
What's a problem for one of their offices tends to be a problem for all, and that is why the four teamed up.
District Attorney Craig said "inevitably" students who skip school and misbehave end up in the court system.
"The statistics are quite well-established," he said.
The four officials formed a task force in September and sent sheriff's deputies into five high schools, making more than 100 arrests in an effort to crack down on discipline problems. That task force is still in place.
"I hope, I hope this will not be necessary this year," Dr. Larke said.
But deputies will be there when the school system needs them, Sheriff Strength said. A "small handful" of problem students will not be allowed to disrupt school for the other students, he said.
"We're going to respond," he said. "We're going into those schools if we have to. We're going to do what we have to do."
Whether it's on the school bus or at a football game, misconduct will not be tolerated, Dr. Larke said. He reminded the community that 10 bus monitors were hired, that he can ban people from athletic events for a year and that pupils caught making bomb threats or pulling fire alarms as a prank will be suspended for a year and sent to the Alternative School for another year.
Nothing will be tolerated that hinders a school from making adequate yearly progress, Dr. Larke said.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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