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Officials offer glimpse into battle against truancy

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
[email protected]
Four cases involving child education neglect charges were heard by the Unicoi County General Sessions Court on Thursday.
“That is where a child has missed 15 days of school or more,” said Jimmy Erwin, who represented the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department during the cases last week. “They’ve already had court for the juvenile.”
But the battle against truancy typically begins long before a court date, officials said.
The process, said Erwin, begins with the school system’s documentation of attendance. At five days missed, Erwin said, the school system will bring in the guardian and child to talk about the situation before the court system gets involved.
The Unicoi County Board of Education sends their truancy cases to employee Tommy Clouse, who says that he will set up a meeting with the parent and talk to them about the child’s behavior and attendance.
“Typically children miss for illness,” he said. “What we are talking about here is when children miss and have an unsatisfactory excuse.”
Clouse said that if a typical child had an infection or cold, he would think that would warrant a three-day excused absence.
“Sometimes these situations are legit and we take that into consideration,” he said.
After the five-day referral goes to Clouse, he said if the parent or child refuse to attend they will attempt to reschedule one more time. If both attempts are unsuccessful, Clouse said at 10 unexcused absences, he will send a referral to the court.
“Before we ever charge them we talk to them,” Erwin said. “We ask, ‘What is going on here?’ ‘Why is the child missing?’ and things like that.”
Erwin said health-related issues are the most valid reason, but also the most commonly abused excuse. If the rate of bad attendance persists for the student, then charges will be placed on the child and the parent, he said.
“The student will be charged with truancy,” Erwin said. “If they continue to miss after going to court for the first time, the guardian for the student is charged with child abuse/educational neglect.”
Erwin said the cases heard on Thursday began around November through January.
“It could take up to three or four months to get in court,” he said. “Even though school is out, we’re still dealing with truancy issues and neglect cases from the previous year.”
Within one school year, Erwin said, he estimates that 10 to 15 individuals are charged with educational neglect.
For the remainder of this article please pick up the June 5, 2012 edition of The Erwin Record.