Teen attends school for three days this year

DEENA COSTER
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2014

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An Opunake teenager has yet to return to school despite her father's prosecution last week for her non-attendance.

And if she does not get back into schooling soon, he could face a further fine of up to $3000.

Last Tuesday, Darren Les Puhipuhi appeared before Judge Allan Roberts in the Hawera District Court for failing to ensure his daughter attended school. He was ordered to pay $300 to the Opunake High School board of trustees, plus court costs of $130.

The prosecution was the last resort available to the school after years of trying to get the now 15-year-old girl to attend school regularly since her enrolment there in 2012.

But Puhipuhi told the Taranaki Daily News yesterday he felt like he was between a rock and a hard place and, despite numerous meetings he had attended at the school about the issue, nothing had really changed.

"I can't force her to go to school if she doesn't want to go," he said.

Puhipuhi said that, although he was aware prosecution was an option, his daughter had told him she felt picked on at the school. He said she had also suffered several personal setbacks over the years.

He said he had investigated the option of correspondence school for her as he knew the important role education played in his daughter's future.

"Every parent wants that for their child," the Opunake man said.

Puhipuhi said the penalty had hit him hard in the pocket, as would any further fine should he be prosecuted again.

"That's a lot of money for a beneficiary," he said.

Opunake High deputy principal Barbara Fakavamoeanga said the school had little option but to prosecute Puhipuhi, after doing all it could to get the teen back to school. According to Fakavamoeanga, the girl has attended school only three days this year.

She said assistance through the Independent Attendance Service and the Rock On truancy programme had been offered to the family, along with attempts by the school management team to help. This included meetings, phone calls, and two family group conferences.

"The whole emphasis is on support to get the student into school," she said.

Fakavamoeanga said the prosecution was her first after being at Opunake High for four years, as they usually managed to get truant students back to school.

"For the majority, we can get there," she said.

She said there was always a reason why students did not come to school, including issues at home, which often needed intensive social service intervention.

"A school can't do that," she said.

She said the door remained open for the girl to return to school and staff would do all they could to make any re-integration work.

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"We can't give up hope," she said.

Hawera Constable Mark Crawshaw, who was also involved in the case, said prosecution was rare and the agencies involved did their best to help young people and families who found themselves in a similar boat.

He said the most important thing parents could do if they struggled get their child to school was to talk to the people who were there to assist them.

- Taranaki Daily News

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