A mother in Sylvania, Georgia turned herself into police earlier this month, after a warrant for her arrest was issued due to her son’s school absences.
Julie Giles, 42, was arrested and placed in ankle shackles because her 10-year-old son Samuel had 12 unexcused absences from school. Giles is now saying that parents should have the right to keep their child home and write absence notes themselves, rather than have to pay for a doctor’s visit and note every time.
“I’m having a real issue with them telling me that an excuse from his mom isn’t enough,” Giles told People Magazine. “It’s like they’re saying you’re not competent to judge if your own flesh and blood is too sick to go to school.”
Georgia law states that a child can miss five days of school without an excuse. Screven County, where Samuel attends school, allows for another five unexcused days as long as a parent sends a note.
Giles said that due a stomach virus and other illnesses, Samuel frequently missed school and while she did take him to the doctor and even the emergency room, the notes for those visits never made it to the school board.
“I don’t know if Samuel failed to give them to the school, or they lost them,” Giles told People.
She also said that other times, she skipped the doctor’s office to avoid paying fees because she knew she could care for Samuel herself.
Giles is not the first parent to be arrested either. School board superintendent William Bland said that of the 67 parents called or visited due to a similar situation, 12, including Giles, were arrested.
“We don’t do it until we’ve exhausted all other means,” said Bland. “I do believe attendance is very important for students to learn.”
Illinois has a similar policy, where excessive school absences could be understood as child neglect, and parents could face 30 days in jail.
The story has brought up an interesting discussion about the power struggle between schools and parents. While some illnesses do require a proper diagnosis, many times a child’s sick day could be something minor that doesn’t need a doctor’s visit and a parent’s explanation should be enough. Similarly, schools should promote sick children staying home to stop others from getting sick. Disciplining a mother for doing what she deemed right for her child doesn’t stop Samuel from getting sick, nor does it send a good message.
Despite all his absences, Giles is proud of Samuel as he is an honour roll student and was named “Student of the Month” for May at Screven County Elementary School.
“I can be proud of my mothering, with or without shackles and mug shots, because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” she wrote on Facebook.
However Giles, who works as a substitute teacher for the county, has stopped receiving calls to work due to the publicity of the arrest.
While Superintendent Bland is supportive, saying Samuel is “a great student” and Giles has been as asset to the board as a substitute teacher, Giles is considering putting Samuel in a private school, home schooling him or even moving.
Giles, who faces seven months in jail and fines, is due to appear in court on July 14.