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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 16:31 GMT

Education: Features

Parents of truants face prison

New accommodation for parents whose children miss school

The parents of children who skip school in the United States could end up behind bars.

School districts are introducing hardline policies in an attempt to eradicate the problem of persistent truants.

Parents who fail to ensure their children attend school face fines and, in extreme cases, the prospect of going to prison or losing custody of their children.

In December, a woman from Kentucky, received a six-month prison sentence because her two daughters missed 116 school days between them over a period of two years.

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And less than two weeks ago, a mother from Mississippi was sentenced to 30 days in prison for failing to send her children to school because they had head lice.

Many schools are attempting to hammer home the message to parents and pupils.

At Canton Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland, 48 pupils with particularly poor attendance records were identified at the start of the current school year.

Attempts were made to encourage their parents to get their children to school on time. The parents who failed to respond were threatened with legal action, with some brought before the courts for a warning last November.

And earlier this week, four parents who had repeatedly failed to get their children to school appeared in court and were found guilty of breaking anti-truancy laws.

Sentencing was adjourned until 12 February, when each faces the prospect of 30 days in prison, a $500 (£300) fine or even losing custody of their children.

'A core group'

Craig Spilman, the principal of Canton Middle School, said: "We tried all the incentives, all the positive things and there was still a core group and we knew that probably some parents needed a different approach."

The policy appears to be working. Mr Spilman says overall class attendance has risen from 88.4% to 91.2% in the course of the past year.

Among those who the message has yet to reach is Michael Pazdzioko, who missed 35 days during the last school year and has not turned up on 27 occasions this year. He complains of being "picked on" by fellow pupils.

Susan Land, defending Michael's mother Helen Pazdzioko in court earlier this week, said her client found it impossible to make her son attend school.

"Every day she gets up and they talk, and she asks him if he's going to school," said Ms Land.

"He says yes and she goes to work. There's not much more she can do other than quit her job and go to school with him."

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