Bay District Schools cracks down on truancy

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Missing too much school is against the law.

According to the Florida Department of Education, when a student is considered truant, his or her parents could face jail time.

"If you missed 15 days we file truancy paperwork with the court, the court system summons those parents to the court," Bay County School District Safety and Security Chef, Mike Jones said.

That's 15 school days within a 90 day period.

"We've had several cases lately that the kids aren't just missing 15 days of school, they've missed 30, 40, 50 and more," Jones said. "I can think of one child that missed 90 days in a year. That's half."

That's why Bay District Schools is cracking down on truancy.

District officials say this crackdown is only for what they consider the most severe cases.

"I know of right now there are only about five or six families that we're working with right now and trying to solve this problem and if not, they're going to get arrested," Jones said.

The Burns family is just one example of what can happen if you don't make sure your kids attend school.

"My two younger girls last year missed pretty much the entire school year due to several things that happened in our family," said Victoria Burns who was charged with truancy.

Burns and her husband were arrested because their children missed too many days.

"I don't necessarily disagree with them that, you know, arresting parents is wrong," Burns said. "I mean, I do believe that in certain situation it can make things worse or harder for the family itself, but I'm sure there are severe cases where this is the kind of action that needs to be taken."

"It falls on the parents because they're the parents. They have the right to have a free public education and that's the law in the United States and the children cannot be productive citizens and move on with the productive life without an education. They can't get an education if they're not at school," Jones said.

Burns said although she does feel the district was harsh in her case, she does believe the school district has the children's best interests in mind.

"If people aren't taking care of their children, taking them to school and getting them in and all, you know, something needs to be done," Burns said.

Since her court date, Burns said now her children are back enrolled in and attend school.

"It takes us about 20-25 minutes to walk there but that's how they get to school now," she said. "I walk them to school."

Jones said there is help for parents in need.

"I wish I knew of the ultimate solution. I'd solve a lot of this world's problems but I don't know the ultimate solution. The laws are in place, the rules are in place, we've got the resources to help parents, we got the personnel to help parents and then just some of those cases, the severe cases, it's just not enough," Jones said. "Bay District Schools offer so much for the parents it's almost impossible to not bring your kids to school."

Parents of truant children could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor and serve up to 60 days in jail.