Parent faces time behind bars for student skipping school

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – A woman in Brunswick County is serving a 15-day jail sentence for breaking Brunswick County truancy laws.

Elizabeth Marie McKeithan, 42, was put behind bars for violating the three-year probation sentence she received after she was found responsible for the truancy of her child, who missed 11 days of school.

State law makes it a misdemeanor when a parent or guardian fails to get a child under 16 to attend school.  The law varies from state to state, and the number of days missed can change within counties.

School officials in Brunswick County say every minute of the classroom is valuable, so if a student has an excessive amount of unexcused absences a parent can end up with a hefty fine or land time behind bars.

"In this day in age of accountability and high stakes testing, every minute of instruction is valuable," said Robert Grimes, director of secondary education. "We know that those students who have excessive absences suffer academically."

Under law, a child can only miss school for a number of reasons – they are ill or need to attend a doctor's appointment or for a religious reason.

Grime adds that aside from having problems at home that can affect a child's attendance, many parents may not even realize they are facing truancy violations.  Sometimes parents leave the house before their kids get picked up for school, so the child may not even get on the bus.

Brunswick County Teen Court Director Glenda Ansley says cases of excessive school truancy are rarely presented to a judge. Ansley says many programs try to educate parents and students about the consequences of missing school.

Copyright 2010 WECT. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.