Jury finds Warren mom guilty of truancy

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published May 17, 2012

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The single mother of an autistic Westview Elementary student must make sure her son attends school every day on time or she will go to jail.

On May 16, a six-member jury found Andria Black guilty of truancy after her son, J’Rez Tarrant, amassed what the prosecution called an abnormal amount of absences and tardies since the fall of 2008.

Judge John Chmura of Warren’s 37th District Court sentenced the defendant to a $50 fine, one-year probation and $30 per month in probation fees. Black also must enroll and complete a parenting class, and her son must avoid any unexcused absences or tardies. As part of her sentencing, Black will undergo quarterly reviews for one year.

A trial was held May 14-15, and closing arguments in the case were heard May 16. Westview is part of Fitzgerald Public Schools.

Chmura said the number of absences fourth-grader Tarrant — who also has asthma — had were “perhaps the worst in my 16 years on the bench.”

“You have been irresponsible as a mother,” Chmura told Black. “It is your responsibility to get him to school particularly because he has autism. That is your job as a mother. If you don’t take your son to school I will put you in jail, and that’s the last thing I want to do.”

Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Derek Miller, who tried the case, said during sentencing, “We’re not looking for jail time.” Those involved just want the child in school.

Westview Principal Denise Kluck and Macomb Intermediate School District attendance officer Judy Southerland were among the witnesses who testified on the prosecution’s behalf.

Since the fall of 2008 — when Tarrant was a first-grader — Miller said of the 655 days he was enrolled in school, the child had 131 absences and 391 tardies. He is in a special education class at the school.

According to testimony, Westview staff and Southerland made several attempts to contact Black about the matter through mailed letters, which went unanswered. There also were attempts since 2008 to have conferences with Black about her son’s absences and tardies.

Black’s attorneys Ivan Land and Deano C. Ware argued Tarrant needs special accommodations because of his autism, and that school officials did not provide that.

“The case hasn’t revolved around absences, it’s revolved around tardies,” Ware said.

Ware said the student is “sometimes about 15 minutes late” due to his autism.

“Not only does it take time for (Black) to get him up in the morning, but she has to go through coaching to get him to school,” Ware said. “The school is supposed to accommodate children with disabilities. All she needed was a 15-minute grace period.”

Land felt school officials should have personally handed Black the letters about her son’s attendance record rather than mail them.

“All she wants is accommodation,” Land said. “The system is flawed. There are no checks and balances.”

Black briefly addressed the court when she said she already is a “part of several parent groups” and that Tarrant is in therapy.

“She felt responsible,” Ware said. “She wanted to take responsibility.”

The jury reached its guilty verdict in less than two hours. Ware and Land took the case without being paid for their services.

 

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