ALBANY — The Georgia Supreme Court recently upheld a state statute that holds parents of truant students respsonsible for making sure their children attend school.
The courts reached a unanimous decision against Channell Pitts of Jackson County who was convicted in October of several violations of the state’s Mandatory Education Statute.
By law, children ages six to 16 are required to attend a public, private or home school program.
Dougherty County School Police Chief Troy Conley acknowledges there is a problem with truancy in the county.
“Last year we had a hot spot at Dougherty High School around Tallulah Drive,” Conley said. “That is a large, wide-open campus with plenty of room to roam. Where we take them depends on the status of the student,” Conley said. “Sometimes they are serving a suspension so we take them home. If they are skipping school, we return them to school and hand them over to the principal.”
Dougherty County Public Information Director R.D. Harter said that the court’s ruling was not ground-shaking in itself in that it simply upholds current state law.
“It’s important to schools to have the supreme court back up the law that is on the books,” Harter said.
Under that statute, once a child has five unexcused absences from the school his or her parents are notified and each additional absence is treated as a separate offense.
“When we alert (the parents or guardian) it is an automated process,” Harter said. “We alert them by sending a letter to the parent notifying them they have to have their kids in school.
Harter added too many missed days can lead to neglect charges against the parents or guardian, then the district attorney’s office can get involved. Earlier this year, Dougherty DA Greg Edwards said truancy can lead to crime and endanger a child’s well-being.
“Students are skipping school illegally,” Edwards said. “They gravitate toward hanging out in people’s houses. Often in those situations kids commit crimes or become victims themselves.”
Edwards advocates uniformed full-time truancy officers to help solve the problem.