A Michigan mother recently spent a week in jail after her 6-year-old child missed 26 days at school.
Twin Lake mother Brittany Ann Horton, 28, initially pleaded guilty to truancy on May 17, but the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office agreed to delay her sentencing on the condition her child did not accumulate any more unexcused absences, Mlive reports.
But the kid continued to miss class, and Horton was sentenced to five days in jail on Nov. 16.
“When parents like Ms. Horton refuse to make reasonable efforts to address the truancy problem, out office is committed to making sure the children of our community are not deprived of an education,” the prosecutor’s office wrote in a statement.
The criminal charges and jail sentence was a “last resort,” it said.
“Had Ms. Horton met with us, the school or service providers, she would have been provided any services needed to address any possible issues, including but not limited to transportation issues, daycare arrangements, counseling, mental health services or anything else necessary to address barriers in getting her child to school,” the statement read.
The sentence also included more than $500 in fines and court costs, WXMI reports.
Horton had plenty of opportunities to avoid the clink.
Through Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson’s Operation Graduation program, schools flag students for intervention when they accumulate nine unexcused absences and contact their parents. Then there’s numerous calls and letters, conferences and warnings.
Horton’s ordeal started in October 2017, when she got a letter about her child’s absences. About a month and a half later, she received another letter, and notice of a meeting at the school in late December that she didn’t bother to attend.
School officials referred Horton to the prosecutor’s office in late January, and another letter went out and meeting scheduled, but she was a no-show. Prosecutors authorized the misdemeanor truancy charge on March 5, Mlive reports.
“Our office does not file charges against parents who are genuinely trying to resolve the issues,” according to the prosecutor’s statement. “The vast majority of chronic truancy cases never end up in court.”
Regardless, Hilson’s office has sent several moms to jail in recent years for ignoring demands to get their kids to class.
In March, a Muskegon County judge sentenced 24-year-old Amanda McEntaffer to 15 days in jail after she ignored eight chances to avoid criminal charges and nine chances to avoid jail, Mlive reports.
McEntaffer’s 6-year-old child racked up 31 unexcused absences and 27 unexcused tardies at Whitehall Elementary School before she was locked up.
“Our office believes that keeping kids in school is the best way to reduce crime before it occurs,” Muskegon County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Maat told the news site in March. “Our truancy diversion program has been very successful keeping kids and parents out of the criminal justice system.”
In other places, jailing parents for their child’s school absences hasn’t worked out so well, EAGnews reports.
In 2014, Pennsylvania mother of seven Eileen DiNino, 55, was found dead in her jail cell while serving a sentence for failure to pay mounting fees and court costs related to her children’s truancy issues.
DiNino “faced fines from nine active truancy cases, which spawned 55 citations,” according to the Associated Press.
“This woman should not have died in prison,” District Judge Dean Patton, who sentenced DiNino to jail, told the Reading Eagle at the time. “Our ultimate goal is not to fine people or put them in jail, but that is the only tool the legislature has given us when people can’t afford to pay.”
DiNino – who was reportedly unemployed, on welfare and overwhelmed by her children – “had racked up $2,000 in fines, fees and court costs since 199 as the Reading School District tried to keep her children in class, most recently at a vocational high school,” according to the AP.