Nathan Bennett, 6, a first-grader at Anne Bailey Elementary School, missed 15 days of school. That is three weeks of school missed in three nine-week periods.
After receiving a court summons to answer to truancy charges, his parents met with Principal Rob Somerville and attendance officer Jennifer Lilly.
The Bennetts explained that Nathan was sick throughout last fall. In November they learned he had mononucleosis. The upshot was that under school policy, only five days were considered unexcused absences.
Despite all his absences, Nathan did well in class and earned a "Super Student" certificate in each nine-week grading period. The Bennetts deserve praise for having a child who can overcome such obstacles.
The principal said he thought the matter had been settled. But under the state's truancy law, the case was now in the court's hands. Somerville wrote a letter to the court explaining the situation.
The Kanawha County prosecutor's office pursued the truancy charge. In court, the mother, Beth Bennett, pleaded guilty. She said she did so in the belief that failing to do so could jeopardize her husband's job.
The penalties for this working mother were substantial: five days of community service at the school, a $50 fine plus court costs, 60 days probation and a misdemeanor on her record.
Assistant prosecutor Fred Giggenbach, who handled the case, said Bennett did have the opportunity to have an attorney represent her and pleaded guilty of her own accord.
Truancy is a serious matter, as the Bennetts agree.
But this case went off the rails somewhere.
The state toughened its truancy laws because too many parents weren't taking responsibility for their children's school attendance.
Nathan's case is that of responsible parents of a sick child who wound up unfairly ensnared by inflexible
application of the law. Good principals like Rob Somerville should be allowed to waive the absences in a situation like this.
The system should give the Bennetts a do-over.