Twenty-one truancy cases being made in Sumter County School System

Published 6:22 pm Friday, February 1, 2019

By Beth Alston

Americus Times-Recorder

AMERICUS — Several arrests were noticed on the Americus Police Department’s reports last week charging individuals with “mandatory education for children between [ages] 6 and 15.”

This means these individuals are accused of not ensuring their children are in school, which is a violation of state law.

Jimmy Green, attendance officer for the Sumter County School System, said that once those arrests were published in Saturday’s edition of the Americus Times-Recorder, there was a large number of parents at the schools on Monday morning trying to justify their children’s absences.

The Times-Recorder talked at length earlier this week with Green and Torrance Choates, Sumter County Schools Superintendent, about the current truancy problem in the school system.

Green revealed that he now has 21 truancy cases, all made since the beginning of the 2019 school year, awaiting hearings in the Sumter County Magistrate Court.

Green explained the school system’s protocol for dealing with absences. Two unexcused absences result in a phone call to the parent/guardian; three result in a notification letter sent to the parent/guardian reminding them of the possible penalties/consequences of absences, as well as explaining attendance expectations.

Five unexcused absences result in the parent/guardian meeting with the Attendance Support Team to identify and implement strategies to deter continued absenteeism. At this point, the case is referred to a school social worker who contacts the parent/guardian or makes a home visit to remind them of the possible penalties/consequences of the misdemeanor violation. Six unexcused absences result in the truancy complaint being completed by the school counselor or designee and forwarded to the truancy officer by the attendance officer.

After seven unexcused absences, a notification letter is sent to the parent/guardian, again reminding them of the possible penalties/consequences and explanation of attendance exceptions.

Even after this exhaustive process, some parents/guardians still do not comply.

When the problem reaches 10 unexcused absences, a criminal warrant is filed with the Magistrate Court for violation of Georgia’s Compulsory Attendance Law. A subpoena is delivered, and if the parent/guardian doesn’t show up for court, a warrant is served. Green said they are actually handcuffed and taken to jail, where they are required to either post a bond or remain in jail until a hearing before the court. Green commented that most of the truancy problems are in the lower grades.

“Students in pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grades are the cases going to court now,” he said, adding that there are a few from the middle grades as well.

Green said the majority of these cases involve parents who do not work, and said the majority of the student offenders are from single-parent households.

“It’s very rare for me to ever have to take a husband and wife to court,” he said.

Choates praised Green for the “outstanding job” he’s done, and stresses that the system is redoubling its efforts.

“He’s [Green] been hitting it harder than I’ve seen since I’ve been here [three years]. This is going to be the norm. We’re going to start at the beginning of the year, and we’re not going to let it slip. We’re dead serious about it.”

After the magistrate court is finished with the parent/guardian offenders, Green takes the case files over to the District Attorney’s Office and the cases go to state court. He said some of the offenders have been to court two or three times.

After 10 consecutive days of truancy, the school system has the right to withdraw the student from school.That action requires a meeting with the principal and the parents who will have to sign an attendance contract and share their plan to correct the issue.

If not, the student can no longer attend the school system. They will have to find another school, because in Georgia, school attendance it compulsory until age 16.

Choates hopes this is the last year they will have these problems in the school system.