Mother of truants threatened with 80-day jail term

March 23, 1995|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore mother was given a 10-day deadline yesterday to get eight of her chronically truant children to school or go to jail.

Vernetta N. Middleton broke down in tears yesterday when Dundalk District Judge Charles E. Foos sentenced her to 80 days in jail for not sending the children to school -- 10 days for each child.

"Oh please," Ms. Middleton, 31, sobbed during sentencing. "I got them to school. It's not my fault. I can't do anything about it."

Ms. Middleton has 11 children, only one of them under school age. Five of the eight children cited in the criminal case -- ages 6, 8, 12, 14 and 15 -- had missed 65 days at Dundalk Middle and Logan Elementary schools by the time Baltimore County school officials stopped counting in mid-December.

The other three children cited -- ages 7, 10 and 11 -- were marked as unlawfully missing seven days at Logan. Her other school-age children also were truant, but school officials failed to seek charges in those cases.

Since moving to a three-bedroom apartment on Amberwood Road in Baltimore in February, Ms. Middleton told the judge, five of her children have begun attending city schools and she is in the process of enrolling her three oldest at Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

"My name isn't on the lease yet, so the school won't let me enroll my children," Ms. Middleton said. "But I'm getting that taken care of tomorrow."

In response, Judge Foos suspended the sentence in favor of a year of probation supervised by school pupil personnel officials -- provided that she meets his 10-day deadline.

"I'm tired of fooling around and the school is tired of fooling around," Judge Foos said. "You either get those children in school so they can get an education, or you can go to jail."

Ms. Middleton's mother, who would not reveal her name, stood up and loudly protested during yesterday's sentencing.

"I don't think it's fair," she said in one of several interruptions toJudge Foos' sentencing. "I'm her mother. I think she needs more time. Why are y'all doing this to her? That's not fair."

Her mother and Ms. Middleton, who was living in Baltimore County at the time she was charged, later blamed the attendance trouble on her frequent changes of residence.

Ms. Middleton said she has moved six times within the last two years. She also attributed her children's absences to her failure to provide doctor's notes for illnesses.

"Some of it is my fault," Ms. Middleton said. "Some of it's not. My oldest daughter was in and out of the hospital for two years because of a breathing problem. The other children would also get sick, and I just never thought to get a note."

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