Eleven St. Clair County parents have been charged with allowing a child in their care to be truant, meaning they don't attend school on a regular basis.
The criminal charges, which are a Class C misdemeanor, were issued after efforts by the local school districts and Regional Office of Education to correct the situation failed, according to St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly.
"These are cases of last resort, when schools and social services have run out of options, when it's clear that the parents are not meeting their responsibilities under the law," Kelly said.
Under Illinois law, minors are required to attend school until they are 17, and the custodial parent or guardian of a minor is responsible for ensuring attendance at school.
Heather Fedro, 36, of Dupo; Mandy Hagan, 26, of Marissa; Melissa Hicks, 47, of Belleville; Deanna Liddell, 39, of East Saint Louis; Jennifer Lovelace-Patterson, 33, of Marissa; Christina Miller, 29, of Marissa; Jennifer Orsech, 34, of Marissa; Tina Prayer, 38, of Belleville; Bobbi Radford, 44, of Dupo; Deanna Sargent, 37, of Dupo, and Brandy Schneider, 37, of Marissa.
A Class C misdemeanor can result in up to 30 days in jail or a fine up to $500, or both.
"We're not playing hall monitor in court. The stakes are much higher because when kids don't go to school they are often condemned to a life of joblessness, dysfunction and crime, and taxpayers wind up paying for that," Kelly said.
In all, 20 truancy cases have been charged so far this year, including cases from O'Fallon 90, Signal Hill, Belleville 201, Belleville 118, Cahokia, Dupo, East Saint Louis and Marissa school districts.
Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said truancy isn't a major issue in the district, but it does come up occasionally.
"We are very fortunate; a significant percentage of our parents do everything they can to ensure their child is at school everyday they should be at school," he said. "There are some families who struggle with getting their kids to school on a regular basis. It's not something that we deal with regularly, but it's something that comes up on a yearly basis."
Klosterman said it's the district's responsibility to educate children, and the parents' responsibility to get the children to school everyday. "We want the kids at school," he said.
Prior truancy cases have resulted in court-ordered supervision, community service, mandatory counseling or other services, arrest warrants, fines and jail time, Kelly said.
St. Clair County Judges Julie Gomric and Chris Kolker have both sentenced non-compliant parents to jail, and in some circumstances have stayed the jail sentence so long as parents improve and comply with the attendance requirements. In many cases, Kelly said attendance has improved.
Kelly said he has been working with local school officials and St. Clair County Regional Superintendent Susan Sarfaty to combat chronic truancy.