Eight mothers booked in EBR truancy roundup

Eight women — including one accused of not sending her child to school all year — were arrested Tuesday in a roundup of the parents of the worst truants in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The multi-agency roundup was coordinated by the Family and Youth Services Center, also known as the truancy center, and was the first major roundup of violators since the center opened in August.

Warrants were issued for 10 women. By Wednesday evening eight were in custody.

“We want to make sure we have a handle on these 10 so we don’t lose them,” Roxson Welch, truancy center director, said. “These are our last 10 who are the worst.”

Summons were first issued as far back as October and November to 30 parents whose children had a history of truancy violations and the parents were deemed the most difficult and problematic offenders, Welch said.

In one of the cases, a mother was issued a summons after her daughter’s elementary school kept the child in the sixth grade for four years because of the girl’s excessive absences, Welch said.

Twenty of the offenders complied with the summons by appearing before a judge and reporting to the center for help, Welch said.

The other 10 had warrants issued for their arrests Tuesday.

Each of the 10 offenders has a history with the center, Welch said, including letters and calls from the school system about truancy and offers of aid from center officials.

“Nothing seems to have worked,” Welch said.

According to the warrants, all 10 women have been arrested and issued summons for their children’s truancy violations.

Welch said that one of the mothers is accused of allowing each of her four children to miss more than 100 days during the 2012-2013 school year. Another mother is accused of not sending her child to school since Jan. 30.

Once children miss more than 10 days, they cannot move to the next grade unless a meeting is held between the family and school officials, and the parents present a valid reason for their child missing so much school, Welch said.

Arrest warrants were issued only for women Tuesday because in those 10 cases there were no men’s names listed in any of the children’s school records, Welch said.

The list of offenders was made by officials from the truancy center, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System’s Child Welfare and Attendance Office and the Truancy Assessment Service Center, Welch said.

The mission of the truancy facility is to identify truant youths and provide them and their families with services to prevent additional unexcused absences.

In some cases, the parents may not be at fault for their child missing school.

Children may have ongoing issues that no one knows about, Welch said, such as losing a close family member or witnessing the murder of a loved one.

“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of the parent or kids knowing help is available,” Welch said.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Wednesday that officials will work with the 10 women to learn the reason for the truancy and work to correct it in time for the next school year.

If the parents comply with the truancy center guidelines and work to correct their issues, charges may not be filed, Moore said.

If the parents do not comply, charges will be filed and they could face both fines and jail time for what Moore said is a major problem in Baton Rouge.

“We just want compliance, not jail,” Moore said. “When the child is not in school, obviously he can’t learn and if he can’t learn, he’s not going to be able to get a job and if he can’t get a job, he’s going to see me and some judge eventually, and that’s what we want to try to avoid,” Moore said.

LSU sociology professor Edward Shihadeh, who specializes in criminology said there are numerous scientific studies to back up Moore’s assessment about truancy leading to criminal activities.

“When they’re not in school, they’re doing bad things,” Shihadeh said.

He said children who are not in school often do not have jobs or anything binding them to the community and become detached from the community, which is when they turn to crime.

Shihadeh said holding the parents accountable was a “good idea.”

“Children are not lawn ornaments, you can’t just have kids and forget about them,” Shihadeh said.

The last major truancy roundup occurred in 2008 when 82 children were arrested for not being in school during school hours.

The last roundup before that occurred in 2001 when about 100 students were arrested.

The eight women arrested Tuesday were booked into Parish Prison on counts of improper supervision of a minor by parent or guardian. Those arrested are:

Tawanda Cosey, 30, 16071 Nehru St., Baton Rouge.

Rochelle Johnson, 32, 9990 Avenue J, Baton Rouge.

Sylvia Robb, 32, 5255 Hammond St., Baton Rouge.

Carla Robinson, 33, 2940 Southpointe Drive, Apt. 1, Baton Rouge.

Lisa Ruth, 44, 4105 Monroe St., Baton Rouge.

Erica Scott, 37, 6229 Gurney St., Baton Rouge.

Paulette Smith, 49, 1734 Cedar Lake Road, Baton Rouge.

Lynn Sparks, 48, 4730 Shelly St., Baton Rouge.

The two women police are still searching for are Kecia Coleman, 32, 5665 McClelland Drive, Apt. 217, Baton Rouge, and Shameka Dixon, 36, 5250 Frey St., Baton Rouge. Police were unsure whether the two women still lived at those addresses. Welch said school administrators told her Coleman may be living in the Gardere area.