MARION - Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati is taking a tougher stance with parents who fail to follow established curriculum guidelines when home schooling their children.
On Thursday, he announced at a press conference that he has charged Marion resident Kim Harris with permitting truancy, a Class C misdemeanor punishable up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Harris is said to have willingly and knowingly allowed her 15-year-old son to be truant.
Garnati stressed that he supports home-schooling in general, just not for parents who abuse the privilege.
Some parents have allowed their children to be truant from public schools, and when threatened with legal action, have pulled their children from that school to avoid prosecution, Garnati said.
"It's what I call an end around," Garnati said. "These are parents who have no intention of home-schooling their child. Unfortunately, there is no law on the books that criminalizes improper home schooling. What concerns me are those children who are chronically truant from school."
In Illinois, chronic truancy is 10 percent absenteeism from the classroom. In Williamson County, Garnati said, he files truancy charges against four to five parents each year. Harris is the first, however, who claimed to be home-schooling her child at the time charges were filed.
"Our priority is to get children back in school and not have to take the parents or kids to court," Garnati said.
Admitting that the Harris case is pretty much a "test" case, Garnati said he made his decision to prosecute after he and Marion school district
officials had exhausted all other efforts to solve the problem.
Mickey Sullivan, truant officer with the regional superintendent of schools office in Herrin, said the number of truancy cases has dwindled in the county under Garnati's watch. But she believes the number of children who are home-schooled who are not receiving proper instruction has increased.
"People don't have to register with our office if they decide to home-school their kids," Sullivan said. "The only way we know the student is being home-schooled is if the parent pulls the student from the school for whatever reason or if we get a report that the student has been seen out on the streets. Otherwise, it's hard to track."
Sullivan said one of the keys to solving truancy and delinquent home-schooling parents is for state's attorneys and judges to take a tough stand with the families involved.
"You don't generally go to jail for truancy, but you can for contempt of court if the judge orders you to go to school and you don't go," Sullivan said. "Fortunately, Williamson County is one of the few counties that will support truancy laws."
In the Harris case, Sullivan said she made three trips to the residence to see if there was an established curriculum. In each case, however, she found that there wasn't one.
"She didn't produce any evidence of home-schooling," Sullivan said. "It's important that we send the message to those parents who are not home-schooling their kids properly that they can be prosecuted."
Marion High School Principal Gerald Murphy said the dispute is not whether or not children are enrolled in public schools or home-schooled, but rather if the parents who choose to home school are trying to get around the system and not provide a quality education for their child.