School slams truancy process as case dropped

SEAMUS BOYER
Last updated 05:00 06/03/2013

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A school forced to withdraw rare truancy charges against the parents of a 15-year-old has condemned the process as "flawed" and "frustrating" for all involved.

Kuranui College in Greytown laid charges under the Education Act last September against the year-11 pupil's parents, who cannot be named.

The school claimed they had failed to improve their daughter's attendance despite letters, conferences and intervention from community agencies.

Yesterday, at the Masterton District Court, it withdrew the charges, claiming new information had come to light which meant the prosecution was no longer appropriate.

The decision provoked an angry outburst by the girl's father, who said he and his wife had been through "six months of stress".

"It's taken six months to withdraw the charges and meanwhile my wife's had a nervous breakdown," he told the court.

She had also been unable to work for the past three months because of the court case. He told the judge the school's lawyers were "milking" the prosecution, and the couple had been forced to spend "thousands of dollars" defending the charges.

The girl, now 16, has finished school.

College principal Geoff Shepherd said information about a medical condition previously unknown to the school had recently come to light.

"Had we been aware of [it] in advance [it] would have stopped us from ever getting as far as prosecution."

He said the statutory process for addressing truancy was long and too involved.

"We have followed the process of dealing with truancy as prescribed by the Ministry of Education and in accordance with the Education Act.

"It's a flawed process, and prosecution often takes place too late to be effective. We feel the process for dealing with truancy is flawed and frustrating for all parties."

Mr Shepherd has previously said the school had run out of options, after the girl's attendance consistently remained "well below" 80 per cent from the age of 13.

At a previous hearing, the school's lawyer, James Elliott, said the board of trustees had no choice but to pursue legal action as it was "hamstrung" by the Education Act.

"It's a situation where there's no winners ... but unfortunately the school is required to take such steps under the act."

Parents and carers are legally obliged to ensure their child attends school between the ages of 6 and 16, or face a court-imposed fine.

Before its withdrawal, the case was the first truancy prosecution in Wairarapa.

A ministry spokesman said schools used prosecution as a last resort after they had exhausted all possible ways to support the child's return to "regular attendance and engagement".

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The ministry may reimburse a school board to cover legal costs associated with prosecuting parents.

Judge Michael Behrens, QC, yesterday granted permanent name suppression for both defendants to protect the girl.

- The Dominion Post

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