Prince George's County school official, using a long-neglected state law, have quietly begun prosecuting parents who allow their children to skip school repeatedly.
Three sets of parents have thus far been charged under the 20-year-old statute, which provides for a $50 fine for each day a parent allows the child to be absent from school, said Tex H. Hughes, school court liaison.
Hughes said that many more were expected to be charged in the wake of the school system's decision late last school year to turn to the courts to make non-complaint parents force their children to attend classes.
Hughes said the county school system gave up on the truancy law years ago because the court system was not then set up to handle the sensitive family problems related to truancy.
"Before, the truancy case would be handled in People's Court or District Court and it would be a criminal mill . . . Parents would be dealt with just like drunk drivers who got fines," said Hughes.
It is different now. Last March, Prince George's County began experimenting with a new concept in family-related legal matters. The concept, called family court, has impressed school officials so much that they are now willing to bring parents before a judge and let him decide their fate.
"We are going to focus mainly on elementary school parents because we know they are probably responsible for keeping their children out of school," said Hughes, who added that the three cases now before the family court involve parents who have kept than 85 of the regular 185 school days.
Assistant State's Attorney James S. Nickelsporn, who represents the county state's attorney's office in family court, said. "This is one way that we can work with the school system and with parents to get those kids in school."
Nickelsporn said the penalty under the truancy law does not provide for a jail sentence, but he said, however, that he doubled that many parents will be willing to pay $50-a-day to keep their child out of school.
he Prince George's County attendance figures have been steadily dropping for the last six years, according to Robert C. Nobors, the supervisor of pupil of services for the county school system.
According to Nabors, the decline now seems to have leveled off at 91.6 per cent, a figure that represents the average daily attendance in county schools. He said in 1967 the attendance rate was 93.6 per cent.
he explained that there are many reasons for school absenteeism, including problems in school and problems at home.
The school system began last year in a major crackdown on absenteeism, he said. He added that parents who keep their children at home are only a small part of the problem.
Nebors said his office is using family court in cases where parents keep their children at home because it involves the whole family. "We must get both the schild and prevent involved," said Nabors.
"The court is the last resore with us," said Nabors.
Nabors said the school system is also attacking the absenteeism problem by involving police and encouraging each school to improve attendance recording precedures. He said some schools are now using computers to pinpoint absent students.
Prince Georgia's County is not the only school system facing a drop in attendance. Schools across the country have had to cope with the problem since jobs have gotten tighter and students have been questioning the value of a college education, school officials say.
In nearby Montgomery County, school officials have also been concerned about attendance figures because they have dropped off in the last 10 years, said school spokesman Ken Muir.
Muir said that the attendance figure for Montgomery County schools is roughly 92 per cent. He said that his school system probably has one of the higher attendance rates among county school systems.
Montgomery County District Court Judge Douglas Moore, who is in charge of that county's juvenile division, said yesterday that he had in the past recommended that the school system also use the 20-year-old truancy in its enforcement program. But county school officials said they disagreed and have not used the law.
In Washington yesterday Supt. Vincent Reed said the D.C school system would step up its efforts to cut truancy by keeping full current attendance recored on each student and notifying parents every time a pupil misses class three days in a row.
Last year the overall absenteeism rate for D.C. public school was about 14 per cent.In high schools, however, it averaged 20 per cent, and in some junior and senior highs, officials said, over 30 per cent of the students are absent on many days.