Thursday, September 18, 2003

2 mothers fined for truancy

Murder, lice among reasons cited in Kenton County cases

By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - One little girl had head lice. Another was depressed and sickly after the murder of her big sister. And a little boy had no one to walk him to school, because his mom was too busy with a premature infant and a 1-year-old.

Such were the explanations offered Wednesday for the chronic truancy of three children enrolled in Covington schools.

Their mothers were charged last week with educational neglect, a misdemeanor, in a Kenton County attorney's effort to curb truancy. In court on Wednesday, Kristie Kirtley and Shawna Walters pleaded guilty and were fined $100. Barb Bass pleaded not guilty, and Ryan Watters failed to appear, causing a warrant to be issued for her arrest.

Their children's absences ranged from 19 to 67 days last school year, court records show.

Walters and Watters could not be reached for comment. But Watters' mother, Nancy Watters, says her daughter's child, second-grader Kenny, is now living with her and attending school every day.

Last year, Ryan Watters was single-handedly caring not just for Kenny but also a premature newborn and a 1-year-old, Nancy Watters says. She wasn't able to walk her son to school, so he couldn't go, Ms. Watters says.

Head lice was the problem in Barb Bass' home. She says her daughter, a second-grader at Glenn O. Swing Elementary, had a terrible problem. Bass kept her home from school to treat her and prevent recurrences, she says.

In the Kirtley home, sixth-grader Daria has had chronic ear infections and stomachaches, her mother says. She had doctor's excuses for many of her absences but failed to deliver them to school officials, Kirtley said.

But Kirtley acknowledged she has not been strict enough with her children since the 1999 murder of her 18-year-old daughter, Jualana Kirtley, at a party.

Both Daria and her mother have struggled with depression.

Covington school administrator Lester Gamble said he's aware of the women's explanations, and the schools have done everything they can to help them. Head-lice shampoo is provided to families free of charge, Gamble said, but the condition is not a valid excuse for absences.

In the past, bus transportation had been arranged for Watters' son, but he missed school anyway, Gamble said.

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Kirtley said the truancy charges have strengthened her resolve to change.

"You're going to school," she says she's going to tell her daughter. "No more stomach hurting. I'm going to give you laxatives over the weekend."


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