By Mike Linn
Area officials are cracking down on parents whose children frequently rack up unexcused absences in school.
The Portales Police Department has warrants on two parents with children in the Portales School District. In Clovis, the crackdown has already reached the courts, resulting in probation and fines for one parent found guilty of the crime known as truancy.
“They may have missed 15 to 20 days (a semester) before criminal action takes place,” Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said. “That’s kind of a dramatic problem for a child because they have missed a significant amount of school.
“From the standpoint we look at, it’s the obligation of the parent to get the kids up and get them to school. If it’s inconvenient, well, that’s really kind of too bad. They have an obligation for this child to at least stay up (on their work).”
One warrant is for the parent of a child in grade school; the other child is in junior high school, Berry believed.
School officials have meetings with parents after the students miss 10 days a semester to try and work out a plan. If the student continues to miss school, then officials at Children Youth and Families will also meet with parents. If the absence problem continues, the district attorney steps in and the parents of such students may be charged with truancy.
On Tuesday, Magistrate Judge Richard Hollis fined a 37-year-old Clovis woman $100 and sentenced her to 182 days of unsupervised probation in the first of what are expected to be about a half-dozen truancy cases in Clovis and Portales. Clovis school officials said their last truancy case was prosecuted about three years ago.
Theresa McCard is the first person convicted under a new policy worked out between the DA’s office and school officials that parents of children with large numbers of unexcused absences will face judicial prosecution for violating New Mexico’s compulsory school.
Her probation includes the condition that her child, a third-grader with more than 30 unexcused absences from elementary school, have no more unexcused absences during the next 182 days.
“It’s just recently that we’ve started to enforce this law,” Ninth Judicial District Attorney Brett Carter said. “A lot of cases are pending and just have not made it through the legal system yet.”
McCard is currently in the Curry County Adult Detention Center on drug-related charges and could not be reached for comment.
While New Mexico law requires attendance until age 18 unless the school board allows a student to drop out earlier, Carter said the focus is on prosecution at the elementary and junior high levels.
“If a child is truant and it is not the fault of the parent, we are not going to prosecute,” Carter said. “If the parent drops the 17-year-old kid at the front door and the kid goes out the back door and doesn’t go to school, we’re not going to prosecute the parent.”
Darrell Todd Maurina of Freedom Newspapers contributed to this report.