News 12 Investigates: Absent From Class

Published: Aug. 14, 2017 at 7:33 PM EDT
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Monday, August 14, 2017

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It's the one school record you might not look for until you need it: your child's attendance record.

During an investigation into missing Richmond County student Janell Carwell we found an inconsistency in the Richmond County School Systems' attendance records.

We dug deeper and found we're not the only ones who notice a problem.

Detectives say T.W. Josey sophomore Janell Carwell went missing on the eve of her birthday.

The first day back to school from Easter break, but Richmond County School District records show something different.

Back in May we asked the Richmond County School System for the Josey students' last recorded date at school.

The first date the school system gave us from Josey’s principal was the day she went missing on April 17th. The date is impossible according to investigators.

The next date we were given was April 16th, which is Sunday.

The last date we were given was the 14th. That's a school holiday.

We asked Richmond County School System spokesman Kaden Jacobs why we couldn't the school system spokesman couldn't tell us Carwell’s last day of school with certainty.

"We had a school record keeping error. One of the issues there is that we were trying to get the information to you as quick as possible and as we looked at the attendance records, obviously with Good Friday, there was some mix-up, but that has been since addressed," said spokesman Kaden Jacobs.

The entire Richmond County School System uses Infinite Campus.

The school system has used Infinite Campus for four years, not only to track attendance, but to record behavior and grades.

Parents, you can check the same information, for your student, from an account at home or on your phone.

Jacobs says each teacher is responsible for taking attendance at the beginning of his or her period.

"It doesn't have to be input until the end of the day. So, if they take it real quick and then get into instructional time they can put it in at the end of the day," said Jacobs.

The school system says Infinite Campus is already set to show all students present.

When teachers take attendance in the Infinite Campus system the only marks they make are excused, unexcused, exempt and unknown.

Spokesman Kaden Jacobs confirms if a teacher does not take attendance, or simply forgets to take attendance, the system would default to present even if a student was missing or unaccounted for.

Without accurate attendance records it can be difficult for prosecutors to intervene in a bad situation, and in a case like Janell’s, it can make the law enforcement investigation difficult.

We reached out to the Augusta Richmond County District Attorney’s office who told us in an email in her experience often times they get "inconsistent" records from the Richmond County School System.

In a statement, the District Attorney tells me when it comes to Richmond County School attendance records:

"I become more concerned when kids get into double digit absences. I think that the earlier we can catch that a child is having issues via school records, the sooner that we can try to correct the problem. All the more reason for the records to be correct."

The Richmond County School System says the 'clerical error' in Janell’s record was isolated.

Not so says District Attorney Natalie Paine.

Paine says "In my own experience is that often times we have inconsistent records."

"I wouldn't even characterize it as a problem and certainly not widespread," said RCSS Spokesman Kaden Jacobs.