Parents charged over 'truancy'

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2014

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An Auckland couple from an affluent inner-city suburb is being prosecuted for their child taking too many sick days off school.

The couple has been charged over their nine-year-old daughter's non-attendance at the school "without good reason" on about 40 per cent of school days in the second half of last year.

The mother, who the Star-Times will not name as it would identify her daughter, said the girl was genuinely sick on the days she missed and the prosecution has been motivated by a clash of personalities with senior staff at the school.

A police summary of facts said the girl had missed 47 of the 111 days the school was open between June and December 2013. "The school has made many attempts through various processes to resolve (the girl's) non-attendance at school," the summary said.

"These have included informal and formal meetings with the defendants, telephone calls, texts, letters and home visits.

Police said three family group conferences had been held through Child Youth and Family though "her attendance has not improved and has in fact deteriorated recently". The family faces a $300 fine which, if they are found guilty, will be paid to the school.

The woman said her daughter was genuinely sick and she would be fighting the charge.

Lawyers' fees and the impending court action had put strain on the family, she said.

"I can't do anything. I just feel stuck. I just feel like I'm being a mum." The family had experienced trouble dating back to when their daughter began school, she said.

A senior staff member had "grilled" her on who she was and whether she had paid her school fees. The woman said she felt singled out from the older parents in the high-cost suburb because she was younger and somewhat outspoken.

The relationship deteriorated until the staff member swore at her when she arrived to pick up her daughter. In the girl's second year at school she got tonsilitis and chicken pox and missed 25 per cent of the school days, the woman said.

The school got CYF involved.

"They treated us like mud," the woman said, "like you're a child molester". Police arrived at her husband's workplace in December last year and gave him a court summons.

The woman said the tension at school made her feel sidelined from her daughter's education.

School camp was approaching and "parents have to write a letter saying why they are a good person who deserves to go," she said. The school declined to comment, citing the ongoing court action.

Ministry of Education Deputy Secretary Katrina Casey said prosecution was a "last-resort option".

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"School boards of trustees have the power to initiate a prosecution against parents for their children's non-attendance at school.

"The prosecution process is triggered only when truancy is ongoing, persistent, parent-condoned and when all previous interventions to support a return to school have been unsuccessful."

Schools are not required to provide information to the ministry on prosecutions for persistent non-attendance but in the past four years the ministry has reimbursed school boards for 29 unjustified absence prosecutions, 15 of them in 2011.

The ministry has a $9 million-a-year Attendance Service that deals with "difficult attendance cases", working with children, parents and schools to get the child to "re-engage with learning" Casey said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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