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December 20, 2001
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Mom guilty in daughters truancy

A Carson City woman will spend two days in jail, a judge ruled Monday, for failing to prevent her daughter's middle school truancy.

Mari Jo Bailey, 41, was found guilty in Nevada's first prosecution of a 1997 law that makes parents criminally liable for their children's unexcused absences.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Bailey, 41, after Eagle Valley Middle School Vice Principal Fred Perdomo declared her daughter, then 13, a "habitual truant."

In addition to the 2 days jail time, Bailey was given 28 days suspended, which she would have to serve should she break the conditions of her probation.

The 1997 revision of a 1956 law, specifies that a child's custodian can be held responsible for a truancy problem after three unexcused absences. Attendance records for the 1997-98 school year indicate that Bailey's daughter accrued 103 unexcused absences.

The law provides parents with counseling, tutoring and transportation for their truant children. When these measures fail, and the parents are given at least two notifications of a child's absences, they can be convicted of failure to prevent truancy.

In order to monitor the progress of students throughout the public school system, the law provided that attendance advisory boards be created in each Nevada county.

Carson City's answer was the Family Resource Center.

Tilisa May, who was executive director at the time of Bailey's arrest, testified that Bailey was given at least two chances to correct her daughter's attendance.

The center first notifies parents and then the child is sent through the juvenile court system. She said her staff has been in contact with the Baileys since 1996.

May said the Family Resource Center provides parents aid to prevent future absences which can lead to criminal charges.

"Sometimes attendance issues are a result of parents not knowing what's going on," she said. "They don't know they're breaking the law."

May added that when Bailey and another Carson City woman, Nancy Ann Winn, were arrested under the law, the Family Resource Center received support from the community.

"When both of these parents were arrested, we got tons of phone calls, mostly in support of the law," she said.

Chet Kafchinski, Bailey's court-appointed lawyer, argued that the juggle of being a single parent with five children made it virtually impossible for Bailey to ensure her daughter's attendance in the face of her daughter's refusal to cooperate.

On the stand, Bailey said that at the time of the absences in question, she worked a 12-hour graveyard shift with a local taxi company.

When her schedule didn't permit her to drive her daughter to school, Bailey said she arranged for her daughter to take the bus, ride with an older brother or take a taxi.

Bailey's daughter testified that her absences were against her mother's consent.

"She would drop me off directly in front of the doors and watch me walk in," she said. "Then I went to a friend's house or the park. I went back about ten minutes before school got out."

She also said that when she told her mother she was sick, her mother would try to verify her condition before writing a sick note.

Deputy District Attorney Jason Woodbury, the prosecutor in the case, argued that Bailey's schedule should be of no consequence in Justice of the Peace Robey Willis's judgment.

"Basically what they are trying to get the court to believe is that the defense is completely innocent in this case," he said during closing arguments. "She's got a duty to know where that child is on school days."

Kafchinski said his client plans to appeal.

"There's something wrong with the way the statute was written given the facts of this case," he said.

Nancy Ann Winn, 42, a Carson City woman arrested under the same law in May, is serving a six-month suspended sentence. If her daughter receives any more unexcused absences, Winn will have to serve the time behind bars.

In a deal with prosecutors in October, a more serious charge of contributory neglect was dropped.

During the course of the 1998-1999 school year, Winn's daughter was absent 59 times, only 15 of which were excused. She claimed that 48 of those were due to illness, incessant head lice, and the girl's dislike of her new school and teacher.

At the time of Winn's trial, her daughter's attendance record had improved.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Nov 23, 1999 12:00AM Published Dec 20, 2001 08:37AM Copyright 2001 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.