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Judge seeks more input on school attendance policy

A parent whose child reportedly had excessive unexcused absences during the 2014-2015 school year had her day in court Tuesday as her attorney contended the policy that the Screven County school system followed is not clear enough and that is takes fundamental rights away from parents and their children. Screven County State Court Judge Grady Reddick, after hearing from the school system and the defense for 43-year-old Julie Scott Giles during arraignment, requested both sides provide additional materials for him to review. The position of the school system was presented by county solicitor general Evelyn Hubbard, who must provide a document with the guidelines of when disciplinary steps are taken because of excessive unexcused absences. Giles and her attorney David Delugas of the National Association of Parents must provide documentation to the judge on how they would improve the local version of the protocol that is a directive from the state of Georgia and the state department of education. When Giles was charged with a count of failure to comply with mandatory school attendance, Giles was interviewed by multiple national television broadcasts and national publications. Giles was on Fox Network’s Fox & Friends and Nancy Grace and her story was picked up by People Magazine. Giles was one of 10 parents during the 2014-2015 school year to be arrested for the school attendance compliance policy. The two sides in the court case must have their documentation to Judge Reddick by Aug. 11, which will be week after the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Superintendent William Bland was not in attendance at the arraignment as he and school administrators were at the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders conference on Jekyll Island. Upon being contacted by the Sylvania Telephone Tuesday afternoon, Bland said the school system will comply with the court recommendations as long as those recommendations are in line with state requirements and approved by Judge William E. Woodrum, Superior Court Judge, who chairs the local protocol attendance committee that involves 14 agencies. According to the current protocol -- 1. Mandatory education for children between ages six and 16 (c) Any parent, guardian, or other person residing in this state who has control or charge of a child or children and who violates this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be subject to a fine of not less than $25.00 and not greater than $100, imprisonment not to exceed 30 days, community service, or any combination of such penalties, at the discretion of the court having jurisdiction. Each day’s absence from school in violation of this part after the child’s school system notifies the parent, guardian, or other person who has control or charge of a child of five unexcused days of absence for a child shall constitute a separate offense. § 20-2-690.2. Establishment of student attendance protocol committee; membership and protocol; summary of penalties for failure to comply; reporting (a) The chief judge of the superior court of each county shall establish a student attendance protocol committee for its county. The purpose of the committee shall be to ensure coordination and cooperation among officials, agencies, and programs involved in compulsory attendance issues, to reduce the number of unexcused absences from school, and to increase the percentage of students present to take tests which are required to be administered under the laws of this state. The chief judge is responsible for ensuring that all members of the committee are notified of their responsibility to the committee and shall call the first meeting of the committee in each county. The committee shall elect a chairperson and may elect other officers. (b) Each local board of education shall participate in, consider, and make publicly available, including but not limited to posting in a conspicuous location, its decision regarding the recommendations of the committee as provided in this Code section. Independent school systems may participate in the committee in the county where the system is located. Independent school systems whose geographic area encompasses more than one county may select one of such counties in which to participate. In Delugas’ request to dismiss the charge against Giles, the attorney said the local policy should contain language that affords a parent to keep a child out of school if that child has satisficatory academic standing. Giles’ child is an honor roll student. The attorney argued that if the protocol process begins with five unexecused absences, then what happens if a parent’s vehicle has a flat tire on the way to school or “Little Johnny’s pants rip” and he has to return home. Or if the child misses a bus. Delugas questioned who will be the ones to determine whether these situations can be validated. “Do I have to bring a note from an auto repair shop to the school?” he asked. Hubbard said the policy has wordage that affords parents the opportunity to speak with school officials to explain situations about students’ missed school days. “This is fixable,” Delugas said of the policy. “I am not throwing rocks at the school board. Let the school board know it was a good effort, but go back and rewrite this.”