Mum fearful of school fines
By REBECCA TODD – The Press | Friday, 26 December 2008
A Christchurch mother is angry at the prospect of having to pay heavy fines because she cannot get her son to go to school.
Under new laws passed by the National-led Government, parents of truants can be fined $300 for the first offence and $3000 for subsequent offences.
They can also be fined $3000 if they fail to enrol their child in school.
In the past, parents could be fined $150 for the first offence and $400 for subsequent offences.
Michelle Chalmers said her 14-year-old son had not been in school for much of this year, but she could not force him to attend.
“We haven’t got any control, but we are being prosecuted,” she said.
“How do you forcibly get them out of bed, into school and keep them there, and even if they are there, how do you make them learn? I just don’t understand what they want us to do.”
Chalmers put much of her son’s problems down to lead poisoning from eating flakes of house paint as a baby. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) before starting school and has behavioural issues that have brought him close to expulsion.
At 14, he was diagnosed as dyslexic, but Chalmers said it was too late by then to make him want to be in school and learn.
“I was dropping him off, seeing him walk in and picking him up at the same place, only to find out later he had been bunking,” she said.
The former Aranui High School student was no longer enrolled at any school, but Chalmers had not been threatened with prosecution despite her son’s prolonged absence.
“There’s nothing I can do to stop it and it’s heartbreaking,” she said.
“I know I’m not the only one out there.”
Linwood College principal Rob Burrough said the move to heavier fines was positive, but cases needed to be looked at individually.
“Part of it is parental issues and part is student problems, so I think a $3000 fine will have some impact, but there needs to be a multi-pronged approach,” he said.
“Some parents have lost control of their children by their own admission, and so this is a burden for them.”
Linwood has been trialling anti-truancy programme Rock On, in which the Ministry of Education, police, Child, Youth and Family and truancy services work with the school and parents to get students back in school.
Canterbury police youth services co-ordinator Senior Sergeant John Robinson said police were working on their third prosecution this year for parents of truants.
“We’ll never prosecute anyone if the child is the issue, only if the parent is the issue,” he said.
Heavier fines sent a message to people that attending school was a priority.
“No parent wants to be held out there having to front up before the court and told they are not a particularly good parent because they can’t get their kids to school,” Robinson said.