School Truancy Crackdown Could Jail Parents

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.,None - When children don't go to school, their parents could go to jail. Orange County is cracking down on truancy. In the worst cases, parents of consistently absent children will be forced to go to court.

Sonia Lopez is serving 108 days in jail, one day for every day of school her two sons missed, one of them is a fifth grader at Pinar Elementary School in east Orange County. Eyewitness News talked to her Tuesday and got 40 minutes worth of excuses.

Lopez was convicted of two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, because her two sons missed dozens of days of school. She doesn't think it's fair.

"They're not seeing there are absences there that are just not my fault," she told Eyewitness News.

Lopez said her sons are involved with gangs and she can't control them.

"They don't want to listen. The reason why, is because these people, they're having sex, they're giving them drugs," Lopez said.

Lopez broke both contracts she signed promising to get her boys to school, one with the school district and one with prosecutors, which carried the threat of criminal prosecution. She's one of seven parents facing criminal prosecution in Orange County over truancy.

There are five parents in Osceola facing prosecution and two more are in the pipeline.

The State Attorney's chief investigator says they're focused on prevention not prosecution and, when they get involved early on, they have up to an 85 percent success rate fighting truancy. In the last two years, Orange and Osceola school districts are taking hundreds fewer cases to them.

"If we don't know the problem exists for months and months, the child is the one that loses once again here," State Attorney investigator Randy Means said.

After a week in jail, Lopez still says she doesn't think she can do any better with her sons.

"They're the ones that have to change," she said.

One of her sons is now with his father; the other is in a juvenile detention program. Cutbacks at both school districts have cut back the work they're able to do with truants and their families.