CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Beth Bennett had her day in court. She just wishes she could have told the judge her story before her sentence was handed down.
The assistant prosecutor who handled the case said she was given the opportunity to tell her side of the story.
Beth, 30, and her husband, Justin, 31, went to Kanawha Circuit Court last week not knowing what to expect.
Their 6-year-old son, Nathan, had missed 15 days of school, but only five were considered unexcused under school system policy, and they were being brought up on truancy charges.
They were shocked when they received the notices, one addressed to each of them, from the court. The notices arrived at their St. Albans area home on April 10.
Beth called Justin at the Capitol, where he works in telecommunications for the state Division of Protective Services. Justin notified his superior officer of the matter, fearing he would get in trouble if he did not.
She said they went to Anne Bailey Elementary School the next day to speak to Principal Rob Somerville and attendance officer Jennifer Lilly, but neither was at the school that day. They made an appointment and met with Somerville and Lilly on April 18.
Somerville told them he was as shocked as they were.
Lilly explained that Nathan had missed 15.5 days of school and went over the missing notes and excuses. The parents gave doctor's notes and written excuses to the attendance officer during the meeting.
Beth said parents are allowed to write excuses for a child for only five days a year under county school system policy. Somerville confirmed that.
There is no limit on doctor's notes, he said.
Nathan was often sick last fall, Beth said.
Nathan is no stranger to tests and conditions with names longer than his own. When he was an infant, his pediatricians were concerned about the large size of his head. A CT scan showed he had craniosynostosis, a condition that causes the infant's skull to stop growing prematurely, preventing the brain from growing properly.
It was surgically corrected when he was 10 months old. He had plastic surgery to repair the scarring when he was 5.
This past fall Nathan, a first-grader, was going to bed earlier in the evening than normal, sometimes right after dinner.
The parents took Nathan to the hospital for tests in November. It was then that they found out he had mononucleosis, or mono as it is commonly known.
Beth said before his diagnosis she would take him to the doctor on some days when he felt ill but other times she would simply keep him home.
If vomiting was involved, she kept him out of school for 24 hours because she thought she was supposed to. That was to avoid exposing other children to a possible bug.
The principal was aware of Nathan's health problems.
"He had some sickness and they had it documented," Somerville said. "I was surprised, to be quite honest."
He wrote a letter to the court to that effect, he said. The letter also mentioned how well Nathan performs in class and how active his parents are at the school.
Beth said she and her husband are law-abiding citizens who are involved in their sons' lives. They also have a 2-year-old.
They work with Nathan on his homework and pick up schoolwork when he misses class. They consider him an excellent student.