VALDOSTA -- Student attendance was the focal point of Tuesday's Lowndes County Board of Education regular meeting. And several Lowndes County School System parents used the opportunity to get a few things off their chest.

Ken Smith addressed a recent statement made by Superintendent Dr. Steve Smith regarding a 39 percent reduction in the numbers of students missing 15 or more days of school due to a truancy protocol developed and mandated by Judge O. Wayne Ellerbee with the Lowndes County Juvenile Court. He quickly said another policy "would have done just as well" and cautioned the comparison between the 2004-05 school year and the previous one because one had a more severe influenza season than the other.

Dawn Best shared her recent experience before Ellerbee, where she said he declared her incompetent as a mother to determine when her own child was too sick to attend school. She said she does not like the policy and questioned having to answer for a decision she as a mother has the right to make.

Addressing the board, Ellerbee said he was a firm believer in children attending school, whether or not they felt good. He said parents should take their child to school and then have him or her examined by the school nurse, who will determine whether the child is truly sick.

"That option has been available from Day 1," he said. "The school nurse is free medical attention these children are not getting."

Others suggested sending a child to school who was running a fever, vomiting, and suffering from diarrhea was bad parenting. They said it exposed the entire school to the illness and aggravated the situation.

Ken Smith said it was almost as if parents were being pressured to send their sick children to school against their better judgment.

Tara Parker questioned a policy that even addressed excused absences. She said parents should not have to defend absences that have already been approved by Georgia lawmakers.

Ellerbee encouraged parents and system officials to view the truancy protocol as a prescriptive and preventive measure as opposed to a punitive one. He said many family problems are able to be addressed in his courtroom without anyone being punished.

Dr. Steve Smith said a truancy protocol committee will meet next week to discuss the plan of action already in place. Based on concerns expressed by parents, he said there will likely be some changes suggested.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call (229) 244-3400, ext. 255.

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