East St. Louis mom heads to jail after kids miss too much school

News-DemocratFebruary 6, 2014 

AP

An East St. Louis mother was sentenced to serve two weekends in jail after she failed to comply with court orders to get her two children to school unless they had excused absences.

Rachel Davis, 28, was ordered Tuesday by St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker to spend the next two weekends in the St. Clair County Jail.

One child has missed more than 100 days of school since August 2012.

Court records show that the student, a first-grader at James Avant Elementary School, missed 87 days between Aug. 30, 2012, and March 18, 2013. On June 26, Davis pleaded guilty to truancy and was placed on one-year court supervision, sentenced to two weekends in the county jail and fined $500. But Davis was told she didn't have to go to jail or pay the fine as long as the child went to school every day.

When Davis went to court in October for a review, St. Clair County Associate Judge Julia Gomric talked to her about the importance of education. At that time, the minor child already had seven unexcused absences from Sept. 6 to Oct. 17.

After Davis told the judge that it was a long walk from her home to school through an unsafe area, the Regional Office of Education arranged for bus service for the child.

Gomric told Davis not to have any unexcused absences between that October court date and a court review on Tuesday.

But court records show that from Oct. 17 to Tuesday, the child was out of school for 14 days, for a total of 21 unexcused absences to date.

The child's younger sister, who is also in the first-grade, has missed 25 days of school.

After Kolker learned that Davis had no trouble getting her children to an after-school program for children who live in public housing, he became upset, according to court records.

"The children have had regular attendance in the program, but the mother simply refused to put the effort in to get the children up for school," he said in court records.

During her sentencing, Davis said that she would make appropriate arrangements to have someone watch her kids while she was in jail.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said truancy is one of the leading indicators for future criminal behavior. And, he said his office will pursue criminal charges in cases where the parent is at fault and if the parent fails to respond or comply with the many levels of services and assistance that is offered.

Kelly said getting the Department of Children and Family Services involved and even the removal of the child from the parent are possible.

He says he thanked the judges "for their willingness to take action."

"Failure to attend school sows the seeds of violence and criminality that plague our community and undermine growth and prosperity," Kelly said. "This is a clear case of criminal justice and social justice. So, we must use the admittedly blunt instruments of the law to fight truancy."

Other parents who recently have pleaded guilty to truancy include:

Antonia Ratliff, 42, the parent of a Cahokia High School student, and Sabrina Brown, 39, the parent of a Wirth Middle School student.

When they pleaded, they received the sentence of one-year court supervision, fines and weekends in the county jail, with the jail time and fines being stayed if the children attended school everyday unless they had an excused absence.

Kelly said Ratliff and Brown have shown improvement in getting their children to school.

The truancy cases were referred to the St. Clair County Court system after the local school truancy board had been ignored by the parents and after the regional review board had been ignored by the parents.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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