THE parents of a young girl who missed 381 days of school since 2012 have been given a chance to avoid jail.
The 14-year-old has gone to school on just 26 dates since September 2012 and should be preparing to sit the Junior Certificate exams this year. However, she missed so many days she is now “anti-school”, Dublin District Court heard.
The court also heard the girl's mother once claimed to a school attendance official that her truant daughter had moved to the UK and was living with a relative there.
Education and welfare officer Jennifer Redmond told Judge John O'Neill the woman said her daughter, “is a traveller girl and she would not be attending any school in England or at home”.
The Child and Family Agency (CFA) brought the prosecution against the parents because the girl consistently missed school since she made the transition to secondary level education. They could each get fined up to €1,000 and jailed for a month after pleading guilty to breaking section 25 of the Education (Welfare) Act for not complying with an official warning to ensure their daughter went to school.
Judge O'Neill agreed it was an “appalling” situation and adjourned the case for four weeks warning them, “I have explained what is facing you if you do not co-operate.”
The teen started secondary school in September 2012 and over the next year was absent on 156 out of 167 days.
In second year, 2013 – 2014, she missed school 152 days out of 167 and since the beginning of her third year, in September, she has not gone to school at all, missing 73 days.
She has missed almost 94 per cent of school days since she enrolled in a secondary school.
Ms Redmond told Dorothy Ware, solicitor for the CFA, that the girl's parents had not co-operated or responded to the agency. She said the only way she could speak to them was by calling to their home unannounced as they would not return phone calls or letters.
The CFA told the court the family had also made claims the girl had not gone to school because of a bullying problem. However, it emerged it was online bullying not connected to her school, and the problem had been resolved.
The girl had also told the education and welfare officer that there was not a bullying issue. The CFA also accepted that there had been a family tragedy in recent years which had affected the girl.
The parents later told the CFA they wanted the girl to move to another school. In September 2014, they were given application forms but “to date they have not returned that form to the school”.
They had also been warned that in the meantime the teenager would have to keep going to her existing school placement but she did not attend on any day since September, the court heard.
The CFA said it was likely the girl will have to be held back a year.
Pleading for leniency, defence solicitor David Stafford said the parents, who did not address the court, acknowledged their daughter had an appalling school attendance record. He also said a family death had affected the teen, who did not have to come to court.
He also said that he was instructed that she had begun “mitching” with other girls and the family believed they had done all they could to get her to go to school. When they try she cries and has a tantrum, he said.
Mr Stafford said the girl was in a bleak situation and missed so much school her parents accepted that it would take a “mammoth effort” to get her to go back.
The defence lawyer said he has spoken to the girl and explained to her that her parents could be jailed. He said the girl was distressed and replied that she could not go back to school because she had been bullied, however, the judge noted there was no evidence of that.
Mr Stafford said, “so much time has passed, she is now anti-school and anti-establishment” and the parents are remorseful that the situation got out of control.
Adjourning the case, Judge O'Neill said there was no excuse and he was concerned the parents had not responded to the CFA. He also said that if necessary he will speak to the girl to explain her mother and father could be sent to jail.