A judge has threatened to jail the parents of a 12-year- old girl who has only attended 11 days of the current school year.
The case involving the first-year student from Co Limerick was one of six prosecutions taken by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) at Newcastle West District Court yesterday.
Judge Mary Larkin was told that school attendance levels for the other five children had improved “dramatically” since their parents were first brought to court earlier this year.
All the parents were prosecuted under the Education Welfare Act 2000 for breaching school attendance notices from Sept 2012 and Jan 2013.
Judge Larkin was told school attendance for five of the children, four girls and one boy, had improved by almost 100% since their parents appeared in court on Jan 24 last.
However, one 12-year-old girl has attended 11 out of 18 school days since the last court date and did not attend school at all in the first term.
In her evidence Miriam Gleeson, senior education welfare officer at NEWB, said the children were being accommodated in a centre at the secondary school where an individual education plan had been drawn up for them.
She insisted this facility was open to all students at the school but accepted it was currently only being used by members of the Travelling community.
Solicitor for the NEWB, Kate Kiely, said the parents of the 12-year-old who continues to miss school days have left the jurisdiction and their home was locked up when an educational welfare officer called.
Defence solicitor Michael O’Donnell said his clients “travel Europe a lot” and he had no contact from them.
Judge Larkin said while she accepted people’s independent cultures, the laws of this land required young persons be educated so they can go and live their lives.
“We are living in Europe now, you can’t just pack your bag and walk off the pitch to avoid what is in the best interest of the child,” she said.
Ms Kiely said the family in question had “simply absconded” and had not engaged with the education service or given notice of leaving the jurisdiction.
She said it was open to them within their culture to avail of home schooling.
Insisting that the parents return to court to explain their defence, Judge Larkin warned that she was considering imposing one if not all of the penalties open to her.
The court heard penalties include a fine of €634 and or one month in prison and a fine of €253.95 for each subsequent missed school day.
She adjourned the case to Apr 9 and advised to Mr O’Donnell to make contact with his clients.
Judge Larkin noted the board was extremely pleased with the turnaround in the other five cases but said it was in the children’s best interest to go to school and adjourned the case for review until May 23 next.