Education

Halifax starts monthly court session to deal with truancy

Posted November 18, 2011

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— Parents in Halifax County could be going to jail if their children have 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year.

Although there aren't official statistics on the number of unexcused absences, school administrators in the county's three school districts – Halifax County Schools, the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District and Weldon City Schools – say they have seen a rise in recent months.

"It's the chronic absentees that we're concerned with," Halifax County Schools spokesman Keith Hoggard said.

Halifax County school leaders say they notify parents after students have three unexcused absences. After six, they send a warning letter and do a home visit. The 10th unexcused absence gets handed over to authorities.

Parents could face up to four months in jail.

"The purpose of this is not to punish anybody," Hoggard said. "We certainly don't want anybody in jail. All we want is our students in school."

The truancy law has been in place for a while, but now the court in Halifax County has scheduled the afternoon of the last Tuesday of every month to exclusively hear truancy cases.

Truancy Halifax court sessions to deal with truancy

Parent Deshonda Simmons supports the policy.

"We're the first teachers for our kids, and we have to be held responsible for our kids," Simmons said.

Others, like Athugla Bunch, oppose it.

"They're taking the parent away from the child," she said. "So, is that going to solve anything if the child ain't got the parent?"

Halifax County District Attorney Melissa Pelfrey says the goal is not to take parents away from the children, especially if the parents are making an effort.

"They're not the parents that are going to be coming to court," she said. "They don't fit this statute."

School administrators say they want to reach the parents who aren't getting the message, and they hope the new court session will do that.

"It's hard to teach a child if the child's not in school," Hoggard said.

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