County readies for additional truancy sweeps

By Trina Trice

The county is gearing up for another truancy sweep, this time with more frequency.

Clayton County Sheriff's deputies will be looking for students cutting school beginning in September.

Sgt. Tina Daniel is leading the sweep.

"We'll be having one every month, floating different schools," she said.

Stepping up the frequency of the sweeps will hopefully get the word out that truants can't outsmart the system, Daniel said.

During sweeps that deputies conducted during the 2002-2003 school year, truant students found out officers were looking for them and would therefore go to class to avoid getting in trouble.

Monthly sweeps could work out that kink, Daniel said.

More than 50 truant and juvenile delinquents were picked up on truancy sweeps for being absent from school without an excuse. Of those picked up several were later charged with more serious crimes such as possession of weapons and drugs.

Officers even found a 15-year-old boy who hadn't been to school in four years. His parents were later charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Daniel has been working with Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracy Graham who has been with the court for seven and a half years and handles most of the truancy cases brought before the court.

About that particular case, Graham said, "I've never seen it before but they fly under the radar screen," Graham said. "There could be hundreds of kids out there we don't know about. It's just so sad, they've doomed him to failure."

Georgia Compulsory Attendance law states that it is the duty of every parent, guardian, or other person taking care of a child between the ages of 7 and 16 to assure that child attends a public or private school or a home study program. Failure to comply with the law constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or jail time.

In the past parents received a letter notifying them of their child's five, 10, or 15 unexcused absences from school. Beginning this month, parents no longer are receiving three notices. Parents receive a letter after their child has had five unexcused absences.

The letter explains to the parent or guardian, among other things, that he or she could be charged with the crime of Contributing to the Deprivation of a Minor Child, a misdemeanor that could cost them a $1,000 fine or require serving up to 12 months in jail, if they fail to make their child attend school.

The second letter parents receive will be their last. It is sent out after a child has 10 unexcused absences. In the last letter, parents are invited to attend a truancy education workshop.