Beginning this spring, a few parents won't simply be dropping off their kids at Memphis City Schools (MCS). They'll be attending class as well.
After the district attorney's office charged them with violating the Compulsory Attendance Act because their children were truant from school, 14 parents have agreed to attend parenting classes at MCS.
Two more parents are fighting the charges and are scheduled to go to court in January. In addition, five other parents have been charged under the law, but the sheriff's office has yet to locate them.
All the parents charged have children enrolled in one of eight middle schools participating in the district attorney's truancy reduction program. Under that program, parents of students with more than five unexcused absences are given the option to enroll their children in a mentoring program in lieu of prosecution.
The district attorney's office sent out more than 100 notices to parents at Chickasaw, Cypress, Hamilton, Hickory Ridge, Humes, Sherwood, Vance, and Westwood middle schools. The 19 parents who failed to respond to the notices were issued misdemeanor citations, booked and processed, and ordered to appear in General Sessions Court on November 30th.
"Before the parent gets to court, our office sends a letter to the home of that student requesting a meeting at the school," said district attorney spokesperson Harold Collins. "The only reason they'd go to court would be if they didn't meet us at the school. That was an opportunity for the parent and student to show documentation of excused absences."
In court, 14 parents agreed to enroll in parenting classes and enroll their children in the mentoring program. In exchange, the charges against them were dropped.
Though the district attorney's office has offered the mentoring program for several years, the parenting classes are new. The curriculum is still being developed, but classes will likely cover behavior, discipline at home, improving school attendance, creating the right homework environment, and teaching children responsibility.
Though the classes are mandatory for parents who were sent to court for having truant children, they also will be available for parents who opt to enroll their kids in the district attorney's mentoring program.
"The kids in the [mentoring] program take trips and view the city. They can go to the library or Grizzlies and Redbirds games," Collins said. "We encourage mentors to take kids to the zoo or to take them to the grocery store and show them how to pay for food. The men teach boys how to tie a tie and change flat tires."
Currently, the district attorney's office has more than 100 children and mentors enrolled in the program, but they're seeking additional volunteer mentors.
Though the office has been going after parents of truant students for several years, Collins said this push was the first to go through General Sessions Court. In the past, parents were charged through Shelby County Juvenile Court, but the court's current docket is backlogged.
"In Juvenile Court, parents don't have to be fingerprinted and booked, but they do in General Sessions," Collins said. "Since there's no space on the Juvenile Court docket, we'll be taking them through General Sessions now. It'll happen much faster."
Collins said another group of parents will be sent truancy notices in January.