After Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin complained about the city’s chronic truancy problem, Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr talked to 1819 News about what his office was doing to combat the issue.
According to Alabama law, most children between the ages of six and 17 are required to attend school. Legally, violators of this law can receive a misdemeanor charge with a fine of up to $100 and 90 days of hard labor.
Earlier this month, Woodfin told the Birmingham City Council that unexcused absences in Birmingham City Schools have been excessive this year.
“It takes a village, and all the adults in the community are responsible for assisting in, supporting, education and reading to our children,” Woodfin said. “It would be real easy to say it’s one adult group, i.e., teachers, or it would be easy to say one group: parents. But it’s all of us. It’s mayor. It’s council. It’s clergy leaders. It’s community partners. All of us are responsible. We are the village.”
“However, in the village, I think accountability is still the order of the day, and we have to be OK with holding ourselves accountable as well as all the other adult groups accountable,” he continued. “... Parents, teachers cannot teach your child if they are not in class.”
According to Woodfin, over 50% of all third-graders in Birmingham City Schools are considered truant, which means a student has seven or more unexcused absences.
Woodfin said he contacted Carr’s office to hold parents accountable for their truant children. However, Carr told 1819 News on Monday that he had not heard from Woodfin.
Carr also said his office should “try to empower families first” before prosecuting parents when their children have too many unexcused absences. However, he insisted prosecution is still a possibility if other methods are unsuccessful.
Through the Helping Families Initiative (HFI), Carr’s office provides several resources, including support for food, clothing and utilities. This, he said, works to fight truancy without taking parents to family court.
“You have to give everybody a chance, and that starts with education, and it’s the parent’s responsibility to make sure that happens,” Carr said. “Now, schools have resource officers and all that stuff. But [through] our program … we actually do home assessments … and see if we can not only help the kid but help the family because you can’t help the child unless you’re going to prove the family.”
Case managers with HFI work directly with the school and take referrals for chronically absent kids. The case manager then assesses the home, according to Carr.
“Historically, what would happen is those situations would get referred to court, to family court,” Carr said. “... What we want to do is deal with those issues before they’re referred to court.”
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