Truant kids land two moms in jail

By Susan DiMauro Record-Courier staff writer Published:

A 39-year-old woman was fined $500 plus court costs and sentenced to 15 days in jail by Judge Thomas Carnes for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and a 35-year-old woman was fined $100 and sentenced to 15 days in jail by Carnes on the same charge.

Both women had longer jail sentences suspended on the condition they have no similar offenses for a year.

Third-year Ravenna truancy officer Ron Stephenson, who is referred about 200 truancy cases each school year, said the possibility of another conviction and jail sentencing is pending.

"This year, sometimes on a minimum of three or four times a week, these kids would not be at school," Stephenson said. "There were 70 to 80 days some of these kids missed because the parents wouldn't take any attempt to get them to school, or they failed to file unruly charges against their kids, or they didn't call a truancy officer for help."

And there are other students whose tracked attendance patterns since kindergarten show about 200 days of school were missed by seventh grade.

Ravenna Superintendent Philip Warner said truancy cases are referred to Stephenson after students accumulate five unexcused absences. Stephenson then contacts parents at home to determine the reasons for absences.

"We do have an attendance issue in the district with some families," Warner said. "It's been fairly steady, but what is increasing is the truancy at the elementary levels. Some parents don't feel they have the responsibility to have their children in school."

Warner said steps to improve a truancy situation include meetings between the families and guidance counselors and follow-up visits by teachers.

Social workers also are available to work with students on attendance matters.

Truancy in Kent schools is not a significant problem, but some parents do supply fictional excuses when their children don't want to go to school, Superintendent Marc Crail said.

"We will expel kids if they're not coming to school after a certain point," he said. "There are certainly kids who are out more than others, and we refer some cases to juvenile court, particularly if the kid is on probation."

In Aurora, Superintendent Jerry Brodsky said there is no attendance problem beyond an occasional student playing hooky.

"There is not a significant problem in our community because of the expectation that kids should go to school," he said.

"The natural consequence is if you're not in class, you don't pass the course and you have some difficulty when it comes to graduation. The best thing parents can do is set an example through their ethics and attendance at their jobs, being where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there."

Crail agreed and said parents should realize a truancy pattern can be set at an early age.

"If you don't come to school, these patterns of attendance follow you into adult life," he said. "And those are the ones who, when they get a job, they don't show up and get fired."

Truancy influences more than students and parents, Warner said.

"Education is a partnership," he said. "It requires not only effective teachers and curriculum but also the cooperation of the child and parent who should make school a No. 1 priority. It is difficult to educate a child who is not coming with the attitude of wanting to learn and who lacks a family that values education."

Stephenson said he encourages parents who have difficulty sending their children to school to contact the police department and file unruly charges against the student.

"You need to get them into the juvenile court system to show you're

trying to send them to school," he said. "Or you should contact the

school or ask the guidance counselors to set up a special program for

your child. People this year could have avoided going to jail by filing

charges or calling the school. You need to make some kind of

effort."

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