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Education is expensive but not sending a kid to school on a regular basis can cost a whole lot more.
One Lawrenceburg mom is finding that out the hard way after being dragged into Anderson County District Court.
The woman’s four children racked up 95 absences this year — 41 of them unexcused — and she is facing a potential court fine of $4,100.
Yep, that’s $100 per unexcused absence, a penalty that skyrockets to $250 per day for a second offense and even 90 days in jail for a third.
The woman pleaded not guilty Feb. 19 and is scheduled to appear April 15 for a pretrial conference and May 7 for trial.
The newspaper is not releasing her name to protect the identity of her children.
“We’re not trying to break bad on anyone, but parents need to make sure their children go to school,” said Wayne King, the school district’s director of pupil services.
“Going to court is a last resort.”
It’s a last resort, but public schools have every right under Kentucky law to haul parents into court if they compile as few as three unexcused absences — the kind where parents do not provide a note to school explaining their child’s absence.
And it’s not just parents who can be marched into court. Middle and high school students can be charged individually if they exceed the unexcused absence limit, too.
King said it generally takes more than three unexcused absences to have that happen. Instead, once a student gets to that number the schools typically send home a letter letting the parents know.
If parents take care of the problem after that, there is no problem unless it continues to happen.
“Most of the time if they tell me they’ll take care of it, they will,” King said. “If it can’t be resolved, they’ll get a final notice. If it happens again, they’ll get a final notice and I’ll turn it over to the court and let them explain it to the judge.”
The bottom line, he said, is to get children to go to school.
“We want them in school to get a good education and get a good job,” he said. “If they go to school, it’s a win-win situation.”
Not going, he said, puts a burden on the entire community, not just one child.
“Any time a child is not in school, the district loses funding,” he said. “It’s money that could come back to our school system for our kids.”
Even if the absence is excused, the district still loses the state funding, which makes all absences a problem.
King said the average student will miss about seven days a year, but there are those who routinely miss 25 or more.
“If a student misses 25 days a year for seven years, they missed nearly a full 175 day school year over that time,” he said.
While the $100 a day and up penalties are stiff, they certainly aren’t written in stone if parents or students don’t let it happen again.
King said the schools work with the court system and a court designated worker to provide a truancy diversion program, which helps parents and students resolve their truant ways.
Parents are notified of the violation and asked to come to school.
He said Family Court Judge John David Myles is generally there, as are other school and court officials who try to impress on students and parents the seriousness of the situation and convince them of the need to go to school.
Even the heavy fines are often averted after parents or students appear in court.
Anderson County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis said the fine is usually assessed but conditionally discharged.
“It’s discharged on the condition that the children get to school and it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “The whole object is to get kids to go to school because not going is the gateway to juvenile delinquency.”
King said he encourages parents and students to avoid the step of going to court, where judges are typically much less eager to accept excuses, including notes from doctors, months later.
“I’ve seen them reject those,” he said. “We’ve received great support from the judges and county attorney’s office. Like us, they just want to get the kids to go to school.”
E-mail Ben Carlson at email@example.com.