Mum found guilty of kids’ truancy
A Napier mother has been convicted of failing to make her children attend school after a day-long trial, which the judge described as a ‘‘sad and concerning’’ case.
The woman, whose name is suppressed to protect her children, defended herself in the judge-alone trial in Napier District Court yesterday. She faced two charges of having children who failed to attend school regularly.
The pair were enrolled at the primary school early in 2015. By September, the school had identified attendance as a problem.
Crown prosecutor Cameron Stuart outlined the lengths the school had gone to to get the two children to attend, which included picking them up from home.
For two years, the school tried various ways to resolve the issue. Staff tried to identify the cause of the truancy and to encourage the woman to make her children attend.
It held meetings with her and it sent a series of letters advising her of the need to make the children attend and the possibility of prosecution.
Various other agencies, including a public health nurse, police and Oranga Tamariki attempted to assist the mother, but none could change her behaviour.
The school principal told the court that one of the children had attended class less than 49 per cent of the time, and the other 75 per cent – well below the average of 92 to 93 per cent. Their attendance had not improved since the charges were laid in July.
The school’s pastoral care officer told the court of the various text messages and phone calls he made to the woman when the children did not turn up to school.
He would go to the house to collect the children but stopped doing so when the woman became ‘‘extremely angry’’, causing him to fear for his safety.
The woman said the family had been displaced in the early part of the year and the children had been ill but they had attended when well enough to do so.
Judge Geoff Rea said the school had done ‘‘a tremendous amount’’ to get the children to class, and it was clear that prosecution was a last resort.
‘‘It’s a sad day indeed when a school has to get to this stage to try and enforce your responsibilities for your own two children. They’re entitled to the same advantages educationally in life as everyone else is.
‘‘In the event that you are unable to modify your behaviour and to provide the basis for your [children] to have a proper education, then forces beyond me will undoubtedly take charge and that may not be a happy outcome for you or your family,’’ he said.
Stuart said there was a public expectation of denunciation and a sanction being imposed, ‘‘however in the leadup to Christmas, the school does not want to impose any financial burden on the children so no fine is sought’’.
The woman was convicted and discharged.
In New Zealand, school boards of trustees are not required to inform the ministry when they have carried out a prosecution but may do so in order to receive money for the legal costs. The ministry had reimbursed boards for prosecutions on 42 occasions since 2010.
Parents are legally obliged to enrol their children in school from the age of 6 to 16 and to ensure they attend every day the school is open, unless there is justifiable reason for their absence.
Under the Education Act 1989, any parent whose child does not attend school as required commits an offence and, if convicted, is liable for a fine not exceeding $30 for every day the child was absent, up to a maximum $300.
"It's a sad day indeed when a school has to get to this stage to try and enforce your responsibilities." Judge Geoff Rea to the accused