Clovis no longer skipping truancy issue
The Clovis school system and district attorney’s office made good Tuesday on their promise to crack down on truancy.
Magistrate Judge Richard Hollis fined a 37-year-old Clovis resident $100 and sentenced her to182 days of unsupervised probation in the first of what are expected to be about a half-dozen truancy cases in Clovis and Portales. Clovis school officials said their last truancy case was prosecuted about three years ago.
Theresa McCard is the first person convicted under a new policy worked out between the DA’s office and school officials that parents of children with large numbers of unexcused absences will face judicial prosecution for violating New Mexico’s compulsory school.
Her probation includes the condition that her child, a third-grader with more than 30 unexcused absences from elementary school, have no more unexcused absences during the next 182 days.
“We’ve got two to three other cases pending in this office and three to four in Portales,” Ninth Judicial District Attorney Brett Carter said. “It’s just recently that we’ve started to enforce this law. A lot of cases are pending and just have not made it through the legal system yet.”
McCard is currently in the Curry County Adult Detention Center on drug-related charges and could not be reached for comment.
While New Mexico law requires attendance until age 18 unless the school board allows a student to drop out earlier, Carter said the focus is on prosecution at the elementary and junior high levels.
“If a child is truant and it is not the fault of the parent, we are not going to prosecute,” Carter said. “If the parent drops the 17-year-old kid at the front door and the kid goes out the back door and doesn’t go to school, we’re not going to prosecute the parent.”
Clovis Superintendent Neil Nuttall said the new emphasis on school attendance is bearing fruit.
“We have made some significant inroads in reducing the dropout rate in our district,” Nuttall said. “Over the last five years it has dropped from 12.4 percent to 4.5 percent, but we still have that nagging issue of students who get so deep into missing school that they can’t climb out of the hole they dig.”
Nuttall said the emphasis on prosecuting parents of younger offenders is intended to prevent problems down the road.
“We went to DA Carter and said we need help,” Nuttall said. “As we look at this issue, we’ve started tracking them and found that our worst offenders began that when they were in elementary schools.”
Nuttall said the goal is to help children, not prosecute parents. Clovis schools are working with family service agencies and the governor’s office to develop plans to improve attendance before taking cases to court.
“Ten to 15 years ago you could pursue occupations without a high school diploma, but now that is just not the case anymore,” Nuttall said.