School started recently for most counties in Georgia. While many moms were busy packing lunch boxes, two Dekalb County mothers heard deputies knocking on their front doors.
Cheryl McCoy and Danelle Swanson were each placed in handcuffs in separate incidents and charged with educational neglect because both of their children had too many absences from school.
The truancy round up came from a 2009 ordinance, which is now being strictly enforced. Atlanta parents could face a $1,000 fine, up to 60 days in jail, or be required to complete community service when their children skip too much school.
According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Atlanta has a troubling truancy problem. Almost 44 percent of high school students missed 10 or more days of school last year, up from 40 percent in 2009-10.
Research shows that students with high attendance are more likely to graduate and earn a diploma. Even poor attendance in Kindergarten can start a child off on the wrong foot. Studies indicate that students who arrived at school academically ready to learn— but then missed 10 percent of their kindergarten and first grade years—scored an average of 60 points below similar students with good attendance on third-grade reading tests.
Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell helped create the new ordinance to help educate parents about the importance of regular attendance and to introduce social programs for families to ensure their children attend school.
Critics say the truancy ordinance is flawed and could cause unneeded stress for already struggling families. Mitchell told the AJC, "Given the crisis we’re facing in terms of truancy, we could haul droves of parents into court,” Mitchell said. “That is not our objective.”
After a student has 10 unexcused absences, both Atlanta and Cobb schools refer cases to the courts, but school counselors and social workers typically get involved after three unexplained absences. The city council tries to work with the court system, the school and the police to first offer social services to parents before imposing any penalties.
In both cases where the mothers were arrested, each had failed to show up in court for educational neglect charges. Swanson failed to show up after her child missed 16 days of kindergarten and McCoy skipped court after her teenager missed 37 days of middle school.
Do you think that parents should be arrested for their child's poor school attendance? Do you think that Atlanta's truancy ordinance will make a difference in the lives of at-risk students? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.