27-year-old Andria Candice Black could face jail time because her son, 7-year-old J’Rez Tarrant, who is autistic, has been late to school or absent numerous times in recent years. Administrators in the Fitzgerald Public Schools and Macomb Intermediate School District in Michigan have accused Black of a misdemeanor offense, saying that J’Rez was chronically late or absent. According to the Macomb Daily, Black only provided a medical note for one of those days.
Violating the Michigan Compulsory School Attendance Act can mean a sentence of two to 90 days in jail.
Deano Ware, one of Black’s lawyers, has accused the school district of being “heavy handed” in seeking the charge against her. The legal charges are “not going to solve anything,” Ware underscored after his client’s trial on Thursday was postponed. Ware contends that the school district has unfairly added up J’Rez’s absences and late arrivals to school all the way back to 2008, while only charging her in 2011.
Black is a single mother, and, as she told reporters, incarcerating her could be severely disruptive to J’Rez who, like many autistic individuals, has a deep need for routine and regularity in his life.
MISD Attendance Officer Judith Sutherland noted in a report that J’Rez was “absent 31 days and tardy 129 times in second grade”; that he missed “21 days of classes, one half-day, and was brought to school late 99 times” in the 2010-11 school years.” Sutherland says that Black did not attend “numerous” meetings requested by school officials and notes placed in J’Rez’s backpack to communicate with her were unopened. But only this school year did administrators take more serious actions:
Between last September and mid-December, J’Rez wasn’t in class on 10 days without explanation; missed five half-days; and was dropped off late 41 times. The truancy charge was filed against Black and she failed to appear in court twice, prompting the judge to issue a bench warrant for her arrest, court documents show. Fitzgerald representatives referred the matter to the MISD again in November. Black was later arrested and released after posting $1,000 bond.
J’Rez tardiness and absences are certainly a long-term issue and should have been addressed back in 2008 when they started. Due to J’Rez’s being on the autism spectrum, the difficulties of getting him to school on time and simply to school at all should have been addressed in developing J’Rez’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). By not addressing the issue sufficiently at a much earlier stage, the school district was tacitly condoning it. J’Rez himself may have become so used to arriving late to school that teaching him to get to school earlier and on time seems impossible for Black. The Macomb Daily does not say why she did not show up for school meetings until this past December; one has to ask, were they set up at times mutually agreed upon by her and the school district? Was she not even able to appear in court because she feared to leave J’Rez?
District Judge John Chmura has given Black’s lawyers two weeks to file any motions in the case.
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