Duval County cracks down on truancy with arrests

18 parents arrested, warrants out for 26 more on misdemeanor charges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eighteen parents have been arrested and there are warrants out for 26 more in Duval County, because the parents failed repeatedly to send their elementary-aged children to school, according to the State Attorney's Office.

Those children have the highest rates of truancy in all of Duval County, the State Attorney's Office said. And now their parents are facing misdemeanor charges.

They have been 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.

IMAGES: Mug shots of parents arrested

The State Attorney's Office said arresting the parents is a last resort. Officials work with them on many levels long before they serve warrants. But they said it sends a message that they are serious about students and education.

There are 180 days in the Duval County school calendar; and out of the 44 truancy cases, the children missed a combined total of 6,558 days in the last three school years. In one case, a child missed 239 school days since 2011.

The State Attorney's Office said the child was retained twice due to excessive absences, and is now 9 years old in the first grade.

"It sends a message that we're not playing about school, because we really truly believe that when they say the school-to-prison pipeline," said Alan Louder, director of Juvenile Diversion at the SAO. "Truancy really is a school-to-prison pipeline."

Louder said before a case gets to his office, there have already been multiple attempts to work with the student at school, then on the district level, starting when a student has five unexcused absences in a month.

"At the school level, they have an AIT, it's called an attendance intervention team," Louder said. "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."

The arrest is a last resort Louder said, and often issues with the parents can be resolved before it gets to that level.

"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," Louder said.

Louder said truancy is a huge problem in Duval County, and these 44 warrants pale in comparison to the thousands of students missing school.

But the State Attorney's Office can only target parents of elementary school students, because the way attendance is taken at middle and high schools can't assure that a student has been at school for the entire day or not.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith worked as a school resource officer and has witnessed the high numbers of truancy firsthand.

"You need to make sure your student's in school," Smith said. "And if they're not going to be in school, get with the school and let them know that you're trying to get them there and see how they can assist you to get them to school."

While arrests might not be ideal, Louder said they are effective.

"The parent sees the seriousness now. She's waking the kid up early," Louder said. "'I'm not going to jail,' because now it's about her, but still if that gets that kid there, it's well worth it."

Some parents were sentenced to jail time because the judge gave them some things to do that they did not do.

Each warrant carries a $1,503 bond.

If convicted, the parents face up to a year in jail on the first-degree misdemeanor charge and up to 60 days in jail on the second-degree misdemeanor charge.