Parents of boy fined €1,200 over absenteeism

The parents of a 15-year-old boy have been fined €1,200 after their son failed to attend school in what was described as a “chronic level of absenteeism”.

The truancy offence was one of three separate cases at Newcastle West District Court, Co Limerick, brought by the National Educational Welfare Board.

A solicitor, pleading for leniency, said the parents were “both on social welfare” and had a limited household income.

However, Judge Mary Larkin said she had no alternative but to convict and fine the boy’s parents. She said it was open to the court to impose a three-week prison sentence on the pair.

“I know it’s an extremely high amount but the choice is that, or three weeks in jail,” she told solicitor John Lynch. “They have a very serious responsibility to their son to make sure he receives an education.”

The couple, who cannot be named to prevent the identification of their son, have six months to pay the fine of €635 imposed on each parent.

Kevin Sherry, solicitor for the board, said there was a “chronic level of absenteeism” and there had been significant intervention by the NEWB with the boy’s family to encourage and improve attendance levels. He said numerous meetings were sought with the boy’s parents but to no avail.

“Unfortunately the defendants have not followed through,” Mr Sherry said. “There has been a superficial level of engagement.”

Judge Larkin was also told the boy’s parents “did not wish to attend meetings with the HSE or gardaí”, to try and resolve the issue.

In the current academic year up until last Monday, there has been a 46% absenteeism level, Mr Sherry said.

The court heard the boy had returned to school this week.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, Judge Larkin issued bench warrants for the arrest of the parents of a 10-year-old boy after they failed to appear in court with their son.

Stuart Moloney, educational welfare officer with NEWB, said the boy, from the Travelling community, has a school absenteeism rate of 64%, having missed 23 out of 33 school days from between Dec 2012 and Feb 2.

And, in a third truancy case, the judge said she would have to consider whether the case was one of “child neglect”, unless the parents of a girl, 12, could show evidence that they sought to have their daughter schooled while the family lived outside of Ireland.

The Traveller family were transient people and could be in and out of the country at short notice, solicitor Michael O’Donnell said.

The judge said the parents had an obligation to inform the State when they were taking their daughter out of school which, the court heard, they had not been doing. The girl, it emerged, was placed back in her school on Monday.

Mr Sherry said there were chronic levels of absenteeism in the case.

Judge Larkin said: “I have no alternative but to impose a custodial sentence and suspend it. The suspended sentence will be raised if the child doesn’t attend school.”

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