Mom's viewpoints on truancy, school change after serving sentence
by Cheryl Caswell
Daily Mail staff
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When Crystal Kaufman was called into circuit court over her son's school absences, and then sentenced to community service at a nearby elementary, she wasn't happy.
"I was irritated," she admits. "I said, 'Why did they need me?'"
Kaufman, a St. Albans mother of four, discovered after her first day of service not only that her efforts were needed and appreciated, but also that she loved being at Alban Elementary, where two of her children attend.
She put in twice the amount of time she was ordered to serve and expects to continue. She has embarked on a fundraising effort to get iPads for an entire classroom and is seeking donations for an upcoming school trip.
Meanwhile, her 16-year-old son with truancy issues is back at his own school, and his grades are improving. His 20 absences because of bullying issues are what landed her in court.
When he balked at returning to school, she didn't force him, she said. Now she insists, and he complies.
Her time at Alban Elementary has impressed on her how important school time is and how difficult the job of educators.
"I took teachers for granted, even the principal," Kaufman said. "I understand now. Once I sat back and watched. Now I know they do things they don't have to. And they don't have time for all the things they have to do."
She is impressed about what schools are doing, and she wants to be sure her kids are there to benefit.
"At the end of the day, they do need to be in school," Kaufman said. "Once they go so far, they are lost. It gave me an eye-opener."
She is one of 19 Kanawha parents sentenced to community service, many of them in schools.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom, who is handling the toughest truancy cases, is pleased at the result in some cases like Kaufman's.
"These parents have been ordered to do community service, and some of them have completed that," he said. "What we're finding is that working in the school environment, and once they get involved in that community, they want to stay in that community."
Parents with criminal records are not eligible to volunteer in the schools but do community service through the Kanawha Day Report Center.
"Some of these parents are going to come before me a second time for non-compliance," Bloom said. "And they will be going to jail."
Kanawha County Schools Attendance Director Eddie Ivey doesn't think that is too far to go to impress on families the need to send kids to class.
Ivey said, "We have wanted the court system to be directly involved in our truancy cases for many years. We want to make sure something is done once they get to that level.
"Now attention is being given to these families," he said. "And the decision may not be a favorable one for them.
"They look at it as a negative," Ivey said. "But from our point of view, we're pleased with the outcome. Once we get people to circuit court, we get people to realize that truancy is a major problem in our school system and our society.
"All of a sudden, truancy is definitely a crime no different than robbery or something like that," Ivey said. "You will be prosecuted for not sending your child to school, and if you are found guilty, you'll be sentenced to some sort of punishment.
"And that's what we want to try to teach young people along the way," he said. "If you do these things that are negative, then there are going to be some negative consequences."
But when those negative consequences turn into a positive effect, even better, said Bloom and Ivey.
"I can't solve the truancy problem by myself," Bloom said. "But if I can get them to establish good school habits at the elementary level, it can have a good effect long-term."