Parents to be liable for student absences

Deidre Cruse

The Iberville Parish School System is joining with local judges, the district attorney and sheriff to crack down on truancy problems, Supervisor William Bujol said.

The intent of the new program is to hold parents responsible for their children’s unexcused absences at school -- and that could include criminal charges.

‘This is an effort to get kids off the street,” Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. said.

“This is the most important thing,” said Bujol, supervisor for child welfare and attendance.

Last year, there was a five percent absentee rate in local elementary schools, and an eight to nine percent absentee rate in local high schools, “which is way too high,” Bujol said.

The supervisor said he began sending letters to parents and started posting the absentee rates at the schools, which helped “somewhat.”

This year, any student who had 20 or more unexcused absences (or 10 or more in either semester) will be put on a watch list. Their parents will be notified of the truancy problem.

If it continues with a student logging five days of unexcused absences (a violation of the state truancy law), the parents and the student must attend an administrative hearing at the Courthouse with First Assistant District Attorney Scott Stassi.

“They will be read the riot act,” Bujol said.

Any parent who fails to attend the administrative hearing or to correct the truancy problem after the hearing could face a charge of improper supervision of a minor.

“The judges, the DA and the sheriff’s office have all gotten behind this plan 100 percent to improve attendance in Iberville Parish,” Bujol said.

The method has been used in East Feliciana Parish, where 11 parents were taken to jail, Bujol said. The parents there were sentenced to 15 days in jail, but the sentences were suspended and they were ordered to work 40 hours of community service.

“I don’t want to see anybody go to jail,” he said. “I want to see our kids in school.”