Parents convicted over son’s truancy

Parents convicted over son’s truancy

By NICOLA BRENNAN – Waikato Times | Saturday, 29 November 2008

The parents of a Morrinsville College student have been prosecuted and convicted over their son’s truancy.

Kathleen Kereopa and Chris Hemara, charged under the Education Act, pleaded guilty when they appeared in the Morrinsville District Court last week for the repeat non-attendance of their 15-year-old son.

They were both convicted and discharged.

Matamata couple Belinda Witaka and Jason Aoake faced a similar charge on the same day and were convicted and discharged, but ordered to pay $130 in court costs.

Morrinsville College deputy principal Marian Fogarty welcomed the convictions, and the message they sent.

“The available penalties are fines and so it is probably more important that the parents are given a clear message that if their children truant they can be prosecuted. I am sure if the same parents were convicted again there would be a substantial financial penalty.”

A second offence carries a fine of $400.

Ms Fogarty said the college took the issue of truancy “very seriously” and monitored their students’ attendance closely.

“We have prosecuted a family once before, a number of years ago and we will certainly contemplate doing it again.

“But it is a last resort and obviously we would much rather not have to take this step.”

The parents in this case were reported to the police by the town’s ROCKON (Reduce Our Community Kids Offending Now) committee.

The attendance rate for the first three terms of this year was 63 per cent – the goal for secondary students is 92 per cent. A 60 per cent attendance rate is 76 days off a year.

ROCKON meets once a month and is made up of representatives of schools, Child Youth and Family (CYF), the police, Education Ministry and health providers. If an absentee problem arises, the first step is for the police to contact the parents. If things do not improve CYF is called in to set up a family group conference.

If all those interventions failed the next step was to prosecute the parents.

Ms Fogarty said truancy was an issue at every school – Morrinsville College was “no better or worse than others”. Year 10 students most often skipped school, although there were a small number of persistent truants at each level.

The college belonged to the Morrinsville District Truancy Service which employed two attendance officers to help track students and get them back to school. But she said funding had not increased in 11 years, and the service was struggling.

“It should be a government priority to fund all truancy services adequately and ensure that everything possible is done to keep students at school and off the streets. “