The Florida State Attorney’s Office and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are cracking down on parents who can’t get their elementary-aged children to school.
Eighteen parents have been arrested so far in the Duval County area. Each parent is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a first-degree misdemeanor, and failure to comply with compulsory school attendance laws, which is a second-degree misdemeanor.
The State Attorney’s Office told First Coast News there are another 26 warrants yet be served.
Duval County Schools have a 180-day school calendar. Out of the total 44 truancy cases the students in question have missed a combined total of 6,558 days of school in the last three years, prosecutors said. In one case, a child has missed 239 days since 2011. That child has reportedly been held back twice and is now nine years old in the first grade.
Alan Louder, director of Juvenile Diversion at the State Attorney’s Office, said authorities made numerous attempts to work with parents before resorting to the arrests.
“At the school level, they have an AIT, it's called an attendance intervention team,” Louder told WJXT. “They have a meeting with the parent, so by the time they get to us, they've had numerous meetings. Then we meet with them a few times.
“When we have a parent that's really willing to try, and she just dropped the ball or he just dropped the ball, they come together with us, we come up with a plan, we get it going and everything happens and they're done,” he added, saying his office prefers not to issue the arrest warrants.
But, Louder pointed out, truancy is a big problem in Duval County. He indicated that the 44 warrants that are currently out are only the worst cases and represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing the overall problem. But it’s a start.
“It sends a message that we're not playing about school,” he said. “Truancy really is a school-to-prison pipeline.”
Each warrant carries a $1,503 bond.
If convicted on the first-degree misdemeanor charge, a parent could face a year in jail. The second-degree misdemeanor carries a possible 60-day sentence.