Truant Adults Face Fines, Jail

There are two types of school truancy.
The most familiar is the child who willingly skips school.
The second is adult truancy — those individuals proven guilty in court for willfully failing to send their children to school.
Adults deemed truant face fines and, under a new law, jail time.
Special District Judge Carl Funderburk said this action falls under the compulsory education act where parents generally are not sending their children to school.
Funderburk’s courtroom is in the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, 315 South Gilcrease Museum Road.
In addition to adult truancy, Funderburk and the other judges assigned to the court, deals with a variety of issues, all focused on keeping young offenders from advancing to the adult penal system.
About 90 percent of his caseload —the same as all judges in that division — involves working with deprived and delinquent children and juvenile protective orders.
But it is the little understood adult truancy cases that he is especially attentive to.
The compulsory education act basically requires parents make certain their children go to school, he said. Responsibility extends to 18 year-olds or when the child either graduates or earns the GED diploma.
‘‘I have had parents say the child reached 16 years-old and could quit school without any repercussions,’’ he said.
The judge considers all truancy cases serious, but takes a very hard look at the age of children.
*I have seen truant kids as early as kindergarten,* he said. *This is the most serious time because parents are setting a pattern by not requiring that youngster to go to school.
Court action is the last resort in dealing with the situation, he continued. Most often, schools will work with parents to resolve attendance issues. But when cases are referred to the court, every effort is made to get a solution to the issue started within four or five days.
Parents do have legal resources in the court to protect themselves against truancy charges, Funderburk said. If they have a child that refuses to go to school, they can petition the court for assistance.
At that point, the court will look at the child:s actions and if necessary, deem the child is in need of supervision. The court will then assist the parent to make certain the child does go to school. But it is only after that supervision order is filed that the state allows the court to get involved.
The court has a different attitude when it is evident that parents are just not making an effort to send their children to school, Funderburk said. The offense is a misdemeanor and, in addition to a fine starting at $25 to $50, can also mean up to five days in jail on the first offense, depending upon how many school days are missed and other circumstances.
Each time a parent appears before Funderburk the sentence is more severe. Every case is separate and penalties increase up to $250 and 15 days in jail.
The seriousness of the situation often is driven home to parents when they realize they will have to get an attorney to defend them against contempt charges.
Funderburk said he had one parent opt for jail time, but changed her mind after two days behind bars.
Many parents also become more cooperative when they realize the Department of Human Services (DHS) is about to become involved in their situation.
If it is necessary that DHS becomes involved then steps are taken to make certain the child is in an environment to ensure they get an education.
Despite the effort to be hard on parties involved in adult truancy issues, Funderburk wants to know more about circumstances in the case.
‘‘I try to look at the long term issues to get an understanding about attitudes,’’ he said. Sometimes parents just don’t get it, they don’t think education is important.
‘‘I would like to help break that cycle,’’ Funderburk said. Sometimes the kid just doesn’t think he or she needs to go to school. When they are placed under supervision. Then the responsibility is placed directly on them.
The number of truancy cases vary from 25 to 60 each month, he said. All are heard by the court on one day.
Funderburk’s work also involves child protective orders — one child seeking protection from another.
Some of the cases involve a girl trying to get away from a boy friend, Funderburk said. Some involve harassment by fellow students. Others involve problems between young people. Most involve high school students.
Looking back to his generation, Funderburk said that boys and girls just broke up, something that just doesn’t happen now.
Values also have changed and violence is more common in schools as a result. Now kids think it is OK to solve their problems with brass knuckles or guns. There are those that go to extreme violence to solve issues.
Unfortunately, kids see violence on television and movies, he said.
Most of the young people with problems are handled by services in the home, Funderburk said. But between 10 to 20 percent require more attention from the courts.
‘‘We want to fix the kids before they become adults so they don’t end up in the prison system,’’ Funderburk said. ‘‘We have to keep reaching out to those kids in need, seeking answers and dealing with issues.’’



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