One Louisiana D.A. cracks down on parents of truant kids

With schools in many districts back in session, it’s important that parents start the year off strong by getting their kids to school on time, every day.

If improving your child’s chances to get to college or become work-place ready by high school isn’t motivation enough, consider what happened to nearly 20 Louisiana families in recent months when their children were found to be truant:

Bench warrants were issued ordering parents to appear before a judge to explain their children’s absence from school.

Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart Sr. said he would be taking a hard stance on truancy after finding truancy rates were 10 times higher than much larger cities like Baton Rouge.

In all, the latest sweep affected the families of at least 26 children ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old. The majority of cases began in the fall of 2017 and ran through the end of May 2018.

According to Stewart, five of the children missed 100 or more days of class during the 2017-18 school year. The total number of unexcused days for children of the parents sought in the warrants sweep was 1,568.

Stewart told the Shreveport Times that his office had attempted to intervene prior to issuing bench warrants by sending authorities out to conduct welfare checks if a child or children in the same household hadn’t been regularly attending school. Often, he said, they would discover that families were struggling to find reliable transportation, to provide students with clean school uniforms, or to deal with drug or mental health problems in the home.

When those sorts of issues were in the way of children getting to school, the court will often work with families to connect them to the resources they needed with the help of community organizations or public assistance programs. Stewart said that while many of the kids ended up back in school once those problems were addressed, that wasn’t always the case.

“As promised and forewarned, I am demanding that parents get their children in school in regular attendance and cooperate in addressing reasons for their child’s non-attendance,” Stewart said in a statement. “While we strive to work with parents and provide services when we can, our community can no longer tolerate parents who refuse to cooperate in their children’s education.

“These parents have been brought to our attention for having not cooperated in multiple efforts to get their children into school,” he said. “And as promised and forewarned, they will be prosecuted.”

He said that the approximately 20 bench warrants issued in June were used as a last resort for parents and guardians who had failed to show up for their Truancy Court date.

Many states have committed to reducing chronic absenteeism rates, and many school districts have adopted different intervention policies to address student attendance issues–usually prompted by research linking positive attendance to short- and long-term academic outcomes, as well as improved health outcomes and lifetime earnings.

School officials have come across many of the same issues that were plaguing families in Caddo Parish, and many have responded by targeting the underlying issues of poor attendance by providing on-site food pantries, health clinics, school supplies, laundry services and open labs for making up missed class time.