State law in Georgia requires that all children between the ages of 6 and 16 attend school. Any parent or guardian found to be violating the compulsory attendance law shall be guilty of educational neglect, a misdemeanor offense, and can face stiff penalties, for each day that a child has more than five unexcused absences, according to the law.
These unexcused absences can include oversleeping, not feeling like going to school, staying home to work or baby-sit, or keeping a lonely parent company. Individuals convicted of violating the state law can be fined, sentenced to 30 days in jail, and ordered to perform community service.
Each year, the DeKalb School System refers roughly 700 cases of alleged educational neglect to the Solicitor General’s Office. Some children have missed more than 40 days of school in just a six-month time period.
In talking with families, the Solicitor-General’s Office has found that sometimes parents keep kids home from school because they don’t realize that there are resources available to help solve problems a child may be having – whether it is due to a learning disability, bullying, or transportation issues caused by homelessness.
These absences are preventable because the schools can provide resources to help parents and guardians cope with these problems.
Jailing parents is the last resort
The Office of the Solicitor General works with a team of school administrators and education experts to provide support and resolve attendance issues before they rise to the level of prosecution of parents or guardians.
The solicitor general offers parents and guardians whose children are chronically absent an opportunity to complete a diversion program called the Attendance Review Team, which requires parents and guardians to sign a contract agreeing that their child will have no unexcused absences and that they will meet with the child’s teacher, counselor, or social worker at least once a month for a specific period of time. Failure to complete these conditions may result in criminal prosecution.
Tips for a successful school year
- Send your child to school every day school is open – except when he or she is sick.
- Wake your child up early enough so he or she can get to school on time, even if that means 15 or 30 minutes earlier than he or she used to wake up.
- Encourage your child to eat a good breakfast every morning; try not to let him or her skip breakfast.
- Pack healthy snacks and lunches that will maintain their energy and help with learning.
- Talk with your child about their school day. Ask what was the best and worst part of the day.
- See if your child needs help with his/her homework and make sure it’s completed each night.
- School officials can be great problem solvers. Contact your school if you think your child has a learning disability, is being bullied, has transportation or attendance issues due to homelessness, or needs other support.
- Create a study routine for your child. A good rule of thumb is to have your child do his or her homework right when he or she gets home from school.
- Have your child prepare for school each night: Pick out clothes or uniforms, socks, shoes, place homework assignments in book bags, etc.
- Be sure your child gets a good night’s sleep.