Charges Filed Against Mother of Truant Child


The mother of a 15-year-old Glendale girl who has attended school only a few days since 1987 will be prosecuted because of her daughter's truancy, the first time the Glendale Unified School District has pressed for criminal action over a child's absenteeism.

Julia Birss has been charged with failure to comply with the State Education Code, which requires parents to ensure that youths ages 6 to 18 attend school daily. Birss has been ordered to appear Dec. 6 in Glendale Municipal Court and could face up to $230 in fines if convicted, said Glendale Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Pargament, who filed the charge Monday.

Under Los Angeles County's Truancy Mediation Program, initiated in February by Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, school districts increasingly have taken legal action against parents of chronically truant children, officials said.

"This finally starts to give the system some real teeth in dealing with truancy," said William Card, coordinator of attendance for the Glendale school district. "We provide a number of interventions along the years to try to keep kids in school. When it comes to the point that nothing changes the situation, the referral is given to the district attorney's office."

Court documents showed that Birss' daughter had a history of truancy dating back to second grade. In 1987, the girl failed to attend her seventh-grade classes at Wilson Junior High School and was put in a continuation school. The girl skipped classes there and did not show up for two meetings with a county review board, the records showed.

Her mother, who attended one of those meetings, told school officials that her daughter ran away whenever school was discussed and lived with a friend, a court file indicated.

Neither Birss nor her daughter could be reached for comment.

The school district each summer mails more than 400 notices to parents of students who have missed more than 20 days in the 180-day school year, Card said. If school officials cannot resolve the problems with parents and truant students, the matter is referred to a School Attendance Review Board, made up of community representatives who decide whether truancy cases should be referred to the district attorney's office for prosecution.

Last year, 55 cases were referred to Glendale's board, and two were recommended for prosecution. One was resolved in a hearing, and the other led to the charge against Birss, Card said.

In neighboring Pasadena, 20 truancy cases are pending against parents, said Pasadena Deputy Dist. Atty. Frederick J. Kubik.

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