Nevada County parents fined for child’s unexcused absences
July 9, 2014
The parents of a Pleasant Valley Elementary School student were fined more than $200 last week at a Nevada County court hearing after failing to abide by a student attendance contract they signed with the School Attendance Review Board, also known as SARB, and county.
"There was a violation of (the parents) to refuse to follow the directions of the (SARB)," Judge C. Anders Holmer said during his ruling. "The school is doing what the school has to do to follow the (education code.)"
The student's father challenged a county mandated contract he and his wife signed in 2013 that stated they needed to verify whenever their child missed school due to being sick. To verify that the child was sick, though, the district asked for a doctor's note or for the parents to bring the child in for a physical exam by the school's nurse or attendance clerk.
According to an attendance summary presented in court last week, in the 2012-13 school year the student had more than 14 unexcused absences and tardies. In court, Pleasant Valley Elementary School Attendance Clerk Linda Astesana said the school sent the student's parents at least three mail notices informing them of their child's attendance issues.
Principal Teena Corker, though, testified that the student continued to have multiple unexcused absences and tardies, causing the school to request a meeting with the student's parents.
"There was a history of attendance concerns in previous years," Corker said. "And we did not get a response from the parents to our request."
In January 2013, the district referred the student to Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen. Hermansen testified in court that in May 2013 the parents attended a SARB hearing with her and Deputy District Attorney Ray DeJesus.
Hermansen said she and DeJesus explained the contract to the student's parents, which required the parents to confirm any absences or tardies their child may have in the future. If the student were to continue to have unexcused absences and tardies, the parents would be given a citation and be fined.
The father of the student, though, testified he did not agree to the contract and he signed it as a form of receipt.
"A contract is an agreement that two people come to," the student's father testified in court. "They explained the contract and said whenever our son was sick, we had to have a doctor's note or we'd be asked to bring the sick child to school to get him checked on. We just flat out said no. We would not walk over a sick child into a school where there was no doctor, no nurse. It didn't make sense."
Greg Klein, the parents' attorney, pointed out to Judge Holmer that regardless of whether the parents signed the contract or not, the county would have still enforced the contract and held the parents accountable if the child ever broke the policies outlined by the mandate.
Klein also argued that there was a lack of trust by the school district to require the parents to do more than just call their child in sick, and that the parents' health-care situation made it hard for them to get a doctor's note for their son with a day's notice.
Judge Holmer, though, found that the parents did violate a contract that followed the state education code and found them guilty on two counts of the citation, costing the parents $216, not including attorney fees they paid to challenge the SARB citation.
Present during the two-day SARB hearing were members of the Nevada County Parents for Student Success, a parent group that has made numerous complaints against the Pleasant Valley Elementary School District in regards to attendance, health and safety issues.
"If his lawyer would have asked (Corker) 'Have you ever had issues with keeping your attendance records?' and she said no. She would have perjured herself," parent group spokesperson Calvin Clark said. "There were several people his attorney could have called on to highlight the school's inconsistency when it comes to keeping attendance records."
District Superintendent Debra Sandoval, though, said that the district and county did what they are required to do by law and said there needs to be a greater level of respect for the regulations schools must enforce.
"I was very disappointed that the other parents were not present to hear the judge's ruling," Sandoval said. "It is important that the public hear from this other source that the district is doing what is legal and right."
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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