A Michigan mother was ordered to spend five days in jail after her 6-year-old child had 26 unexcused absences from school. USA Today reports that Brittany Ann Horton pleaded guilty to truancy after the school sent multiple letters to the mother starting in October, 2017, and attempted to schedule a parent meeting regarding her daughter's repeated absences.
The 27-year-old mother was contacted after the school referred the case to Muskegon County prosecutors in Michigan on January 22. In February, prosecutors contacted Horton to find a solution to the problem, but the mother never showed up to a scheduled meeting or responded to attempts to reach out to her.
In March of this year, the prosecutors filed charges of truancy, but again, the mother failed to respond or appear at her arraignment. As a result, a warrant was issued for the Michigan mom. On May 17, Horton pleaded guilty to a charge of truancy with the condition that she would serve no jail time, nor would she pay a fine, if she worked with the school to prevent further absences. Unfortunately, Horton's daughter continued to miss at least 14 more days of school.
On November 16, Horton was sentenced to spend five days in jail followed nine months of probation and to pay a $500 fine.
"Our office does not file charges against parents who are genuinely trying to resolve the issues. The vast majority of chronic truancy cases never end up in court," Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said. "However, when parents like Ms. Horton refuse to make reasonable efforts to address the truancy problem, our office is committed to making sure the children of our community are not deprived of an education."
Hilson launched a program aimed at battling the issue of truancy called the Operation Graduation, in 2013. The guideline states that program kicks in after nine unexcused absences, but prosecution is a rare "last resort" after all other avenues have been exhausted.
The program involves four steps, which start with letters to the parent, followed by a second later and a meeting with school administration if the first letter doesn't resolve things.
"If attendance continues to be a problem after the scheduled meeting, or if the parents fail to attend, the Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office makes contact with the parents and schedules an appointment for the parents and the child to meet directly with an Assistant Prosecutor. At that time, the parents are offered an opportunity to enter into the Social Justice Truancy Intervention Contract."
Finally, if all else fails, criminal charges are filed against the parent or child.
According to the Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office, over 90 percent of cases under the Operation Graduation program were resolved without intervention. From 2015 to 2016, 493 cases were referred to the office, with just 39 students referred to juvenile court and 10 parents charged with truancy. During that time, chronic truancy was reduced by 10 percent.