MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) – Montgomery Public Schools and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office are working to ensure all school-aged children are attending classes.
Alabama law requires all students between the ages of seven and 17 to be enrolled in school. A student of any age who is enrolled in school is also required to attend. Parents who do not comply with the law can be arrested.
After working with a number of parents who refuse to follow the law, nine are being arrested for non-compliance and another dozen cases are being processed.
The district sent 1,960 early warning letters to parents this school year. Before warrants are issued, parents are given several opportunities to not only comply with the law, but to get assistance for family issues that may be affecting a student's attendance.
This could range from help in purchasing uniforms, food or clothing, to referrals to service agencies to assist with physical, emotional, or financial needs.
Every effort is made to return students to school without invoking criminal proceedings, but for some, the warnings are not enough. Parents who are in violation of the Alabama Compulsory School Attendance Law may face up to one year in jail and/or $6,000 in fines.
"If children aren't in school they can't learn, and they certainly can't graduate," said Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Thompson. "We will work with parents to get them the help they need. Involving law enforcement is a last resort, but children need to be in school."
MPS and the District Attorney's Office have been administering a program to reduce truancy in the county as part of a federal Safe Schools and Healthy Students grant. The Helping Families Initiative has worked with over 400 area families to help reduce the expulsion and dropout rates, and truancy issues.
"I am very proud of the work we have done partnering with MPS to help families keep children in school," said Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks. "Most families react positively when we come to them with the problem. Unfortunately, a few do not, and we must take further action to ensure the best possible education for our children."
Deputy Mayor Jeff Downs, who serves on the committee made up of law enforcement, juvenile court representatives, educators, and others that help to guide the program, hopes this sends a message to parents. "We don't want anyone arrested, however, when a child doesn't go to school he or she is more likely to get involved in criminal activity and that becomes an issue for all of us. Ultimately, we will enforce the law."