10 Merced parents were arrested because they didn’t send their kids to school, DA says

Children being picked up by parents and guardians from John Muir Elementary School in Merced on Aug. 17, 2017.
Children being picked up by parents and guardians from John Muir Elementary School in Merced on Aug. 17, 2017. Merced Sun-Star

Ten Merced parents were arrested last week as part of a countywide truancy sweep targeting parents who are failing to send their children to school, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office reported.

The 10 parents were charged with misdemeanor offenses of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Their children racked up unexcused absences at school, resulting in truancy, authorities said.

The arrested parents were: Nancy Benitez, 42; Ana Luzania, 34; Rosalind Hardin, 46; Jose Gonzales, 45; Ana Salas, 43; Bernadette Thomas, 45; Vanessa Montufar, 32; Fabiola Higareda, 44; Jennifer Villa; and Kristin Jacobs, 35.

All of the parents arrested live in Merced, and their students attend Merced City Schools such as Gracey Elementary, Tenaya Middle School, Wright Elementary and Givens Elementary, court records show. The charges stem from absences last school year.

The parents were arrested on Aug. 30 and taken directly to Merced Superior Court for arraignment before Judge Mark Bacciarini. One parent spent the night in Merced County Jail, the district attorney’s office reported.

The parents were arrested “only after every other effort to get these kids to school has been exhausted,” said Steve Tietjen, Merced County’s superintendent of schools.

All of the parents went through Merced City Schools’ School Attendance Review Board process, where school officials hold hearings with parents, offer them services, call home, conduct home visits and more, said Brian Meisenheimer, the district’s director of pupil services.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Meisenheimer said. “If we can provide supports in any way we can, we want to do that. We want to help them. It’s not about being punitive. It’s about finding resources.”

Schools work with Merced County Behavioral Health Services, Child Protective Services, Merced County Probation Department and more to help parents get their children to school.

Contributing factors to chronic absenteeism include poverty, homelessness, unemployment and more.

“We fail our children, we fail public safety and we fail our communities if we do not do everything in our power to see that kids graduate from high school,” District Attorney Larry Morse II said.

One absent day causes a student to fall two or three days behind their peers, Meisenheimer said. The district is working hard to curb chronic absenteeism by informing parents about the importance of school attendance.

“The stakes are simply too high for these kids and we owe them our best efforts to see that they receive the education they deserve,” Tietjen said.

If you suspect a child is not in school as required by law, or if you need support getting your child to school, contact Pupil Services at Merced City School District by calling 209-385-6647.