Judge threatens jail time, community service for missed school

“They are going to spend their Friday nights there if they aren’t going to spend that time in school.”
For every absence, according to Judge Steven Randolph, students will have to do seven hours of community service at a recycling center.
Published: Aug. 4, 2023 at 11:28 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2023 at 5:30 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Putnam County schools are cracking down on unexcused absences to the point parents could face jail time.

For every unexcused absence over the five-day limit, students could have to do seven hours of community service at a recycling center, Judge Steven Randolph said in a video message to families.

“I know from personal experience, being down there on tour, that during the summer months those milk jugs get pretty stinky,” Randolph said. “They are going to spend their Friday nights there if they are not going to spend their time in school.”

Randolph added that parents will also be held accountable for their student’s absences and could go to jail for up to 10 days at a time.

Putnam County School System attendance and enrollment supervisor Chris Pierce said they are required to follow the state law in their attendance policies. Once a student gets through the first two phases of violations, they are issued a citation that is handled by the juvenile court system.

“We try to help the judge work through any issues while we are in court,” Pierce said. “Ultimately, his methods of dealing with truancy are his methods of dealing with truancy.”

Pierce said there were 23 cases last year that went to the court system and would be facing these harsher punishments this year. The district has not changed any of its attendance policies for this school year.

Parents with children in Putnam County schools, like Tiffany Brewer, said they are shocked and outraged by these new rules. Brewer kept her son home from school for a full week last spring after the shooting at The Covenant School. She does not think something like that should possibly lead to jail time.

“Obviously, they need their education,” Brewer said. “We are all for education here, but also, reference to the shooting, being sick or family emergencies. This world is so crazy. There is so much that goes on. To put jail on a parent or make the kids work, that’s just insane to me.”

Brewer described the message Randolph released as a “fear tactic” and would rather see the judge work to educate families about the importance of being in school.

Randolph declined an interview opportunity for this story. He issued a statement that cited the state laws around truancy that he considers when hearing a case.

“The individual student’s best interests are continuously reviewed throughout the time their case is pending before the court,” Randolph said in the statement. “I regret that the video has caused so much confusion, but I am glad that it has increased awareness about truancy and the best interests of the students of Putnam County.”