News 12 First at Five / Friday, Jan. 4, 2013
EVANS, Ga. -- Students head back to class on Tuesday, and the Sheriff's Office is not afraid to lock you up for hurting your child's future.
Mike Sleeper may be a school board member, but his number one job is dad to 13-year-old Noah.
"As a father, I know that my kid's got to be there. My child has to be in school because teachers know how to teach ... I don't," Sleeper said.
In 2008, Columbia County schools adopted a new truancy policy to crack down on student absences. They were getting 400 to 500 cases a year.
"You had kids in a single semester that missed 30 days of school," Sleeper said. "How can a child even hope to pass or learn anything if they're not in school?"
And they got the Sheriff's Office in on their team.
"It was a pretty serious problem, big issue. It boils down to a lot of parents, some of them not being responsible," said Investigator Gary Harden of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
Students are allowed five excused absences per semester with a parent's note. After that, they must come from a doctor.
"We say, hey look you're at three unexcused absences -- if you get to five absences, you can be refereed to juvenile court for truancy," Harden said.
The next step would be filing charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
"I have arrested some parents for failing to get their child to school because ultimately it is their responsibility," Harden said.
"It's sad, because it hurts the child. It doesn't hurt the parent. Now we've got these laws in place, and now it can hurt the parent," Sleeper said.
Since schools got serious about it, they've seen some positive change.
"Folks realize that we're taking this seriously, and so they're taking it seriously, and their kids are in school. As a result, kids are learning more ... our test scores are going up," Sleeper said.
This law is only in effect for children ages 6 to 16. After 16, the student is considered an adult. Schools also receive certain funding and achievements because of attendance rates, so leaders say it doesn't just hurt your child -- it hurts the children around them, too.