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From Truancy to Criminal Charge: Flagler Schools Take Parent to Court Over Child’s Absences

| April 17, 2013

Andre Darby did not want to enrol his son at Rymfire Elementary. It triggered a court case that may be resolved Thursday. (© FlaglerLive)

Andre Darby did not want to enroll his son at Rymfire Elementary. It triggered a court case that may be resolved Thursday. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s not the sort of court case you see every day. But it’s on Flagler County Circuit Court Judge J. David Walsh’s docket Thursday afternoon: State of Florida v. Andre Javan Darby.

It’s a truancy case.

Darby is a 38-year-old resident of Wedge Lane in Palm Coast. The state—representing in this case the Flagler County school district—is taking him to court because he was not enrolling his three children in school.

It doesn’t happen often—“a handful of times” each year, says Kristy Gavin, the Flagler school district’s attorney. There is one other such pending case this year. What does happen often is chronic truancy that parents or guardians at times aren’t even aware of, especially with students in middle or high school who pretend to go to school but play hooky instead. The district is quite patient, gradually going from notices that go home, to warnings that the situation may be handled more severely, to an outright notice that the parents may be taken to court if the truancy continues.

“Is it a frequent thing that students approach that level and letters are sent? Yes, absolutely,” Gavin says. But that usually takes care of it.

In Darby’s case, it didn’t. The case is illustrative of the balance the district has to contend with routinely between routine truancy and outright law breaking that leads to actual charges. It is also illustrative of how parents can play the home-school card only so far, if their intention is merely to keep a child from attending school rather than educating a child by their own means.

Florida law is clear. All children who turn 6 by Feb. 1 of any school year, and who are younger than 16, must either be enrolled in school—public, charter, private—or be receiving instruction at home. Parents must register their homeschooled children as such. It doesn’t stop there. Parents can’t merely declare that they’re home-schooling a child and expect the school district to nod and move on. All home-schooled children are expected to have portfolios documenting their work and progress in line with certain standards.

Periodically, parents or guardians of the child must meet with district officials so the portfolio can be reviewed. Some parents choose not to meet: The attitude of some home-schooled parents can become so defensive against the district, often for inexplicable reasons, that they consider such meetings an intrusion in their right to educate their child as they see fit, even though the district, reflecting Florida law, is extremely accommodating to home-schooled households. Verification that a child is getting instruction doesn’t go much further than that. Parents are free to choose whatever curriculum they want. It doesn’t have to be a Floridian curriculum. But they do have to show that a child is keeping pace, roughly, with academic expectations at given ages. The Flagler district is so accommodating that it has accepted documentation of home-schooling without actual meetings.

The Darby case goes all the way back to 2011. His son was to attend Rymfire Elementary. His daughters were to be enrolled at Flagler Palm Coast High School. There was no attendance with the boy. The girls’ fitful or lack of attendance at FPC only started in the fall of 2012.

A habitual truant under the law is a student who has piled up more than 15 unexcused absences in a 90-day period—with or without the knowledge of parents. Excused absences due to illness, for example, must be documented by a doctor.

“The parents were indicating that he was being homeschooled, and there’s no problem with that,” Gavin said, referring to the elementary-age child. The district’s parent liaison set up a meeting to go over the child’s portfolio. “The parents missed the appointment. It was rescheduled and rescheduled, and so we said look, if you can get us the documentation, this will go away, and they didn’t.”

In October 2012, the case was referred to the district’s truancy coordinator for review. And a second-degree misdemeanor charge was filed against Darby. (A second degree misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail.)

Sharon Feliciano, the Palatka attorney, was assigned to represent Darby in December 2012. (Feliciano did not respond to requests for interviews Tuesday and Wednesday. Darby said he was not at liberty to speak about the case, on advice of his attorney.) There were several delays. The case was to make its way to County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens. In February, Feliciano asked that Moore Stens  recuse herself, because Moore Stens and Feliciano had been opponents in last year’s election to that judgeship. So the case was moved to Walsh’s docket.

According to Gavin, Darby has since enrolled the younger boy at Palm Harbor Academy, the charter school, where the boy has reportedly been attending school. The older girls have been attending FPC. Nevertheless, because of the severity of the case, and the belated response by the family—and because the district and the state don’t take egregious truancy cases lightly—the charge has not been dismissed.

“We’re right now attempting to reach an agreement with the parents where we’d potentially enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with a year’s probation,” Gavin said. But it was not clear whether that settlement would stick.

Walsh’s docket indicates that, after moving close to a trial, a “possible” plea is in the works.

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9 Responses for “From Truancy to Criminal Charge: Flagler Schools Take Parent to Court Over Child’s Absences”

  1. A.S.F. says:

    Can’t this be considered “neglect”? Have there been any reports made to child protective services in regards to this family? If not, why not? It seems that these parents only comply with the law when they are threatened with actions that might have consequences for THEM (the adults)–or, perhaps, they have worse things to hide and only reluctantly began following up with their childrens’ school attendance out of fear that other things going on in that home might come under closer scrutiny. I hope that there will be a FULL investigation in this case–interagency, if need be. And all the agencies involved should work in cooperation, and coordination, with each other.

  2. Deep South says:

    Just because you don’t want your child to attend a certain school, does not jeopardize your child from attending school and getting an education. Irresponsible parent.

  3. Alex says:

    I doubt if this kid could be educated by our school system. Perhaps even would be disruptive and prevent others from learning.

    So if it is not about education, what is it all about?

    Is it possible that each kid represent tax dollar for the School Board?

  4. Profiler says:

    I contacted DCF once to report children not having been sent to school for months….and to my surprise….they told me they didn’t deal with that. I couldn’t believe it!

  5. David R Campbell says:

    Unless we live in their home and walk in their shoes-we should tend to our own business.
    It’s so easy to judge from the back seat.
    There are so many details not yet available that I cannot imagine how one could “pre-judge” this family.
    In many cases that I have seen over the years, people rush to grab the ‘hang-man’ noose. Can’t we just *hang* on long enough to allow the true facts to emerge?
    Is it not supposed to be ‘innocent until PROVEN guilty?”

    • maryellen says:

      yes, but we can still formulate an opinion based on the facts that we do have, and in this case, if a parent is just not blatantly sending their child to school and not educating them otherwise, they YES, they are Neglectful parents!

  6. r&r says:

    DCF is a scam. They don’t deal with anything. It’s like the TSA..

  7. Anonymous says:

    We do not know the parents story, trust me if the child needs a special education (ESE Dept) or has a learning disability then the FCSD is not the place for this child. The parents have not spoken yet as to why they pulled their child from the district school, I can tell you from years of frustration that I ended up taking my child out. I put my child in a private school and now they are flurishing, the problem is not every parent can do that option, lets see what really drives this case before we start the bashing.

  8. Maggie says:

    A child can be homeschooled in the state of Florida and never have a meeting with the county. That is because this is not a requirement of the FL statute. A county does not have to ever have a meeting with a parent, and if they do, the child does not have to be present. The meetings can only be about the student’s progress, and to review the child’s portfolio.

    The way this article is written makes it seem as if the county is being super accommodating to the parent, when in reality, they are just complying with the law.

    To homeschool in Florida a parent must be able to prove that their child is progressing according to his or her own abilities. This is done with a portfolio review, which is able to be done by any person possessing a valid and current Florida Teaching Certificate. That is why there is no requirement that the county ever meet with the parent.

    Furthermore, if the county finds the parent is not keeping up with the requirements of the statute, they must put the homeschool on probation for one year. After that year probation, if they still find fault with the family’s homeschool, then they are able to terminate the homeschool.

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