Thanks for visiting our website. We’ve recently established this website to give the residents of Morgan County, Indiana information on how to pay traffic tickets, learn about child support, protect themselves against scams and identity theft and much more.
Our office is open weekdays from 8 am to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. You can always call us at (765)-342-1050.
Morgan Co. Prosecutor
“Empty Seats Don’t Learn” is the name of a new program aimed at cutting student absenteeism in Metropolitan School District of Martinsville schools.
The program created by the Morgan County Prosecutor’s Office, Morgan County Probation Department and the Martinsville school district is seeking to lessen the loss of learning opportunities that goes with absenteeism.
Prosecutor Steve Sonnega said there are around 69 grade school and middle school students who through the eighth grade have missed a significant number of school days. Sonnega said the program targets families whose children continually miss school.
While this program targets students in the Martinsville school district,
Sonnega said that sometime in the future he hopes to expand it to include other county school systems. The focus now, however, is on students who in their pre-high school education have missed large numbers of class days — up to nearly the equivalent of a year’s worth of classes.
“The school year is 180 days long, and we have one student, that out of five years of schooling has missed 172 school days or nearly one year,” Sonnega said. He said over the same five years, other students have missed between 100 to 169 days of school.
“It’s a cumulative effect,” he said. “Students who miss 20 to 30 days of schooling a year get behind and, most of the times, never catch up.”
Sonnega said parents need to step up and make sure their children go to school. He said they also need to make sure homework is done by their children.
“Ask questions,” Sonnega said. “If a student is making As and Bs, they might not need to do as much homework as a student making Ds and Fs.”
Four key actions
The program designed by the school administration and his office has the aim of helping children get an education.
The program has four key components:
Identifying families whose children have a history of poor attendance.
Notifying those families that the history of poor attendance must change.
Immediately monitoring the families at the beginning of the school year, including meetings with the school principal.
Prosecuting parents who still do not get the message that school attendance is important and required by state law.
Martinsville schools attendance officer Jenny Babbitt, who helped with the program, said parents need to become more involved with their children when it comes to making sure they get to school on time.
Babbitt has a list that shows how serious the attendance problem is for some students.
“We have an upcoming second-grader who has 67 absences and 40 tardies, an upcoming fourth-grader with 109.5 absences and 191 tardies, and an upcoming eighth-grader who has had 269.5 absences and 29 tardies,” she said.
If one family member misses, others do
In multiple-child families, Babbitt said, when one child misses school, the others in the family usually miss school as well. She said there are a large number of students who miss school on a Monday or Friday on a regular basis.
One problem, Babbitt said, is that medical professionals write excuses for children when there is no medical reason for the excuse.
“If your child is not feeling well, let the school nurse decide if he or she needs to see a doctor,” she said.
Too many times, she said, children miss school because they simply do not want to go.
For students who have a medical problem, Babbitt said, the school district can work with them. “We have students who are under medical care, and they do their school work at home.”
Babbitt said in many cases, there is a lack of communication with parents.
“I will work with them, but they must work with me,” she said.
Babbitt and Sonnega said there is help for parents who need it.
“We are a very caring and giving community,” Sonnega said.
There are a large number of single-parent families in the system, said Babbitt and Sonnega. Some of those families and some two-parent families suffer from financial problems or drug, alcohol or sexual abuse.
‘We need to communicate’
There are people and organizations who, if asked, will provide clothing, school supplies and other needs, they said.
Babbitt said, “We have some children who move several times a year, which makes it hard to check on their attendance.”
Solving the problems, they said, starts with a call to the school’s principal.
“We need to communicate, we need to know what the problems are,” Babbitt said.
The end result, they hope, is to build positive self-esteem for the child and let them know that someone cares.
Sonnega said the Indiana compulsory school attendance law makes it a Class B misdemeanor for a parent not to send their children to school. A parent could receive up to six months in jail if found guilty.
In extreme cases, he said a parent could be charged with neglect of a dependent as a Class D felony. That charge can carry a prison sentence of up to three years in prison, he said.
Several years ago, Sonnega filed a Class D felony charge against a Martinsville mother who failed to send her children to school. After violating a court order and spending some time in jail, the children did get to school.
Babbitt said that, while she wants parents who need help to come forward, she believes in some cases that prosecution might be needed to get parents to comply with the law.