If students persist in missing school, parents may find themselves being held accountable according to Georgia state law.
In 2003, 514 students missed 15 days of school or more equating to 15.8 percent of the Gordon County Schools student body.
That same year the Truancy Treatment Team was established in Gordon County as a resource to address the large number of absent children, by offering referrals and resources to support families to keep children in school.
In 2011, only 136 students missed 15 days of school or more, and that number accounts for only four percent of the entire Gordon County School system, according to recent statistics.
Though the rates have improved dramatically, parents and guardians of school age children should realize the importance of school attendance in Gordon County, and be aware that parents are responsible for the attendance of their children.
The Compulsory School Attendance Law, Georgia Code 20-2-690.1, states mandatory attendance in a public school, private school, or home school program.
Every parent, guardian, or other person residing within the state having control or charge of any child or children during the ages of mandatory attendance is responsible for enrolling them in school.
The law allows for five unexcused absences per school year and each unexcused absence after this is considered a violation of the law.
Gordon County school system takes preventative measures to thwart excessive absences.
Every school is required by the state to notify parents by letter once a child has missed five unexcused days.
After the letter has been sent, if a child continues to miss class unexcused, parents are notified by phone, parent meeting at the school, or home visit.
Once at least two attempts have been made to speak with the parents or guardians about attendance and the child continues to have unexcused or unlawful absences a referral is made to the Gordon County/Calhoun City Truancy Treatment Team.
This meeting is held at the juvenile court and involves key community agencies such as Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Family and Children Services, Family Connection, Family Resource Center, Juvenile Court, and the School Social Workers for both systems.
This meeting is intended to be an intervention to prevent additional unexcused absences at school. Sometimes the meeting uncovers other issues going on at home that may be contributing to the poor school attendance, such as divorce in the home, death of a loved one, physical or mental illness, job loss, etc.
“The meeting is not meant to be a punishment for parents, however, we do want to inform them of the law and get their attention” said Gordon County School Social Worker Whitney Carnes.
At the end of the Truancy Team meeting the parent or guardian signs a contract stating they are aware that any additional violation of the attendance law could result in a court referral. The cases are reviewed throughout the school year.
However, if a child continues to have unlawful days out of school one of the following may take place: a referral to juvenile court for middle/ high school students, a referral to the Department of Family and Children Services for Educational Deprivation, or a referral to Magistrate Court.
“Last school year Gordon County Schools referred several parents to magistrate court for pre-warrant hearings,” said Carnes. “Unfortunately, even a warrant was issued. This is not a step that the system likes to take, but is willing to take so students may get an education.”
Carnes explaines that jail time may result in a parents failure to ensure their child is in school, and after the five unexcused absences, parents possibly face up to one day in jail per unexcused absence after the alloted five days.
The trend in children who continue to have excessive, unexcused absences in school cause the student to fall behind academically, in which students often times do not finish high school, according to Carnes.
Parents are encouraged to ensure their children stay in school unless they are medically unable or have other lawful reasons to be absent.
“We understand that everyone will get sick and need to be out and that other unforeseen crises may occur, but otherwise we want students in school each day” said Carnes.
Though students 16 and older may choose not to attend school, a drivers license may not be legally attained until he or she turns 18-years-old.