Parents of truant students could face fines and even jail time under a contract approved Monday night by the Oklahoma City School Board. The $192,402 contract with Youth Cornerstone’s THRIVE Program in conjunction with the Oklahoma County district attorney’s office offers warning letters and mediation as ways to get students back on track and avoid the misdemeanor charge of truancy, and ultimately to reduce the district’s dropout rate. Tawny Shelby, Youth Cornerstone’s executive director, said she expects THRIVE will send about 7,000 letters from the district attorney between now and May about truant students. She said between 1,500 and 2,000 of those families will likely require mediation services to get children back in class, and she hopes 80 percent of them will complete the program successfully. That would leave up to 400 who still may face truancy charges before the end of the year. However, 16- and 17-year-olds would have to be charged under the law — not their parents — and Shelby said the juvenile court system is not accepting truancy charges now because the docket is too backed up. Parents of students 15 years old and younger can be charged and face a fine up to $1,500 and up to one month in jail. Shelby said consideration is given to parents who have tried to get their children back in school.
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How schools handle unexcused absencesAfter four or five unexcused absences: Schools will send letters home about the absences. After 10 unex- cused absences: THRIVE will send letters from the district attorney’s office and continue to monitor student absences. Upon any more unexcused absences eight days or more after the letter is sent: THRIVE will send parents of middle and high school students a letter offering them a chance to participate in mediation to resolve the issue. Mediation: Parents must attend about a half-hour session with THRIVE staff and then complete about 16 hours of a skills education program. Completion: If parents complete the program and the students have no unexcused absences for six months, students and parents will be cleared. Failure: If a parent fails to respond to the mediation notification letter in seven days, if students continue to be truant after the mediation program or for parents of elementary students for whom mediation is not be offered, THRIVE will file truancy charges through the district attorney’s office.