Brittany Ann Horton, 28, of Twin Lake, pleaded guilty to truancy after ignoring repeated requests to make sure her child attended classes, the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office told the Muskegon Chronicle.
The school district first contacted Horton on Oct. 25, 2017, then sent a second letter on Dec. 11, 2017.
School officials scheduled an intervention meeting with Horton for Dec. 21, 2017, but Horton did not show up.
The school contacted the prosecutor’s office on Jan. 22. The prosecutor sent a letter on Feb. 2, and scheduled a meeting for Feb. 21—and again Ms. Horton didn’t show up.
Horton was charged on March 5 for allowing her child to miss too much school. She pleaded guilty on May 17, but the prosecutor’s office agreed to suspend sentencing and would dismiss the case if her child didn’t miss any more days.
Instead, Horton’s child missed 14 more days without valid excuses.
On Nov. 16, Muskegon County District Judge Harold Closz sentenced Horton to five days in jail, nine months of probation, and $525 in costs and fines.
“When parents like Ms. Horton refuse to make reasonable efforts to address the truancy problem, our office is committed to making sure the children of our community are not deprived of an education,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement, according to the Chronicle.
“Had Ms. Horton met with us, the school or service providers, she would have been provided any services needed to address any possible issues, including but not limited to transportation issues, daycare arrangements, counseling, mental health services or anything else necessary to address barriers in getting her child to school.”
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson started Operation Graduation, a program to reduce truancy, in 2013. The program provided for a legal warning to be sent to parents whose children miss five days of school without valid excuses.
After nine unexcused absences, school officials sit down with parents and try to solve whatever problems might be causing the absences. If the situation does not improve, the parents are referred to the prosecutor’s office.
“Law enforcement is not the first responder,” Hilson told the Muskegon Chronicle when the program was introduced.
“The first response is coming from the school. I am hoping that will get the attention of parents and keep us out of it.
Parents who do not get their children to school are referred to Mediation & Restorative Services and the Department of Human Services’ school-based Family Resource Centers.
“Additionally, individual schools are planning on how they will work with those students who do not want to be there,” Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendant Dave Sipka told the Chronicle.
“There is no magic wand to eliminate all of the obstacles that impede student learning or the desire to be in school. I believe schools will offer some alternative placements for students as well—on-line programs, different settings, etc. Working with kids will still be a team effort.”
Some Parents Choose Jail Over School
Brittany Horton is not the first parent to have been sentenced to jail time for failing to make sure a child got to school.
More than 500 parents have been referred to the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office after ignoring repeated warnings to make sure their young children attended school, according to the Chronicle. Several Muskegon County mothers have served time for truancy.
Sherry Lynn McFail, 30, was sentenced to two days on March 27, after she failed to enrol her son, failed to send him to school, and failed to show up for scheduled meeting to address the problem.
Brandi Sue Skirnski, 30, pleaded guilty to truancy and was sentenced to a month in jail in June 2017.
Skirnski’s daughters, ages 10 and 12, had been missing school regularly since 2015 when she signed a contract with the prosecutor’s office to not let her children miss any more days. Her children were absent the next day.
Amanda McEntaffer, 24, of Whitehall was sentenced to 15 days in jail by Muskegon County District Judge Harold Closz on March 16.
McEntaffer’s child had 31 unexcused full-day absences and 27 unexcused tardies, Maat said. Excused absences are not counted, he said.
McEntaffer was given nine chances to avoid jail and eight chances to avoid criminal charges, Muskegon County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Maat told the Chronicle.
Sarah Lynn Martinez was sentenced to 18 days in jail after her 7-year-old racked up three months of unexcused absences.
The child was still in kindergarten, Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Alisha Riedl told the Chronicle. “The child’s already old for her grade, and she’s significantly behind because of her absences.”
Elizabeth Courtney Miller, 35, received a 10-day sentence for letting her four children miss school. Each had an average of 26 missed days.
“We talked to this mother several different times before we decided to charge her,” Riedl said.
Though the program targets the parents, it is done on behalf of the children.
“We want children to be successful,” Riedl told the Chronicle. “Oftentimes, if kids are in school, they’re not out on the streets doing nothing … They have to have an education to be successful in their future. That’s something our office is passionate about.”
No one wants these parents to go to jail, Reidl explained.
“The goal of our Operation Graduation program is not to incarcerate parents,” Riedl explained. “Our goal is to help parents ensure that their children get to school.
“But I’ve got to get the parents’ attention somehow.”
“Education is extraordinarily important for our children,” Riedl concluded. “It sets them up for the future, and we want to make sure all children are successful.”