MARION — Officials in Williamson County are reminding students who habitually skip school and the parents who let them get away with it that they will face legal consequences if they are continually truant.
Williamson County State’s Attorney Charles Garnati and Franklin-Williamson Regional Superintendent of Schools Matt Donkin held a news conference Wednesday in Marion to discuss the county’s Abolish Chronic Truancy (ACT) NOW program.
Although the program has been in place for 18 years, Garnati wanted to remind parents and new arrivals to the county’s school districts of the consequences for truancy.
Garnati said truancy is a community issue not only affecting schools, but law enforcement, juvenile justice systems and mental health.
“There is a known direct correlation between truancy and future juvenile delinquency, daytime crime rate and adolescence substance abuse,” Garnati said. “Today’s dropouts may be tomorrow’s criminal.”
Legally, Garnati said his office can attack truancy by going after the parents and/or the students.
According to Garnati, when a student accumulates three unexcused absences in a school year the district will refer the student and parents to the Franklin-Williamson regional superintendent of schools for early intervention. A plan is formed to achieve regular attendance, which might include counseling, educational programs or parenting skill training.
If another unexcused absence occurs after the plan is put in place, the student and parents are referred to the Williamson County State’s Attorney’s office where the legal consequences of truancy are explained. If the conference is skipped, the State’s Attorney can consider prosecution.
Following the conference with the state’s attorney’s office, if another unexcused absence occurs there will be prosecution of parents and/or students.
Parents can face criminal charges, be fined up to $1,500 and face a 30-day jail sentence. Garnati said if the juvenile is the problem they can be taken to juvenile court where they could face jail time, a fine up to $100 for every instance of truancy, loss of their driver’s license and public service work.
Garnati said his office has brought criminal charges against parents; one case is still pending while one mother pleaded guilty Sept. 28 and received one-year court supervision and fines. There are a number of pending juvenile cases Garnati said he could not comment on.
Donkin said education is of the utmost importance for society, and his office wants to make sure students are getting the education they need by assisting with the ACT NOW program.
“It has been successful and will continue to be. But we want to continue to get that word out how important it is for students to be at school.”