Posted: 5:55 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

New bill targets truant students

By Carl Willis

ATLANTA —

Lawmakers behind a new bill hope the threat of putting parents in jail will keep children in school.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver told Channel 2’s Carl Willis she's planning to introduce a bill that threatens parents, and even school employees, with criminal charges if they don't do enough to stop truancy.

"Children that miss even 10 days from school are educationally harmed," she said.

According to Oliver, DeKalb County had over 12,000 cases of students missing more than 10 days of school last school year.

Oliver and state Rep. Rahn Mayo, the bill's sponsor, said the coming bill would bring new requirements and fines.

"That means add some teeth, some definition to the law," Oliver said. "The school districts must report these cases to law enforcement and to the solicitor's office."

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New residents in a local school system would have to enroll their children within 15 days in a public, private or home school, or they could be face a misdemeanor charge.

School employees who fail to report a child who has 30-days of unexcused absences would face a misdemeanor.

"So that law enforcement can be aware and we can take the proper action because a lot of cases are unreported," Mayo said.

Parents of a child who gets five or more unexcused absences would face a separate misdemeanor for each subsequent unexcused absence.

The DeKalb County Solicitor General's office handled 900 referrals last school year thanks to their truancy task force. Those in the DeKalb County system said they want to spread their success to the rest of the state.

"In other jurisdictions that don't have those collaborations, having tight laws that allow for those prosecuting agencies to get that information in a timely period will allow them to force kids to get back into school," said DeKalb Solicitor General Sherry Boston.

Each of the misdemeanors would be punishable by a fine or up to 30 days in jail or community service.

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