Dad’s critically ill son faces truancy charges

Posted at 7:57 PM, Feb 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-18 06:44:37-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WTVR)-- Tim Roberts is livid that his critically ill son is being charged with truancy after missing too many days from Manchester Middle School.

His son Christopher, 15,  has a rare skull disease and has survived more than two dozen skull, brain and cranio-facial surgeries. Tim says his son is just back on his feet from a procedure last week and is now prepping for a major surgery in the spring.

Roberts thinks the Chesterfield County School system is wrong to pursue truancy charges against his son. The case is scheduled to go to court next month.

"We've got hospital documents and I've shown them to the school and he is really sick. I wasn't trying to just keep him out of school" Roberts said.

"The school division will continue to work directly with the family," a Chesterfield school spokesperson said. "Federal and state laws prevent us from disclosing certain information about students."

Attorney Charlotte Hodges represents the Roberts family. She says the case is just another in what she calls a disturbing trend in schools across Central Virginia.

"It looks like a disturbing pattern that I have seen time and again over the past few years that I've been investigating," she said. "It's happening Henrico and in Chesterfield schools where students are being charged with truancy when it's unjustified."

She's working with several families going through the same fight Robert faces. She advises parents to "know your rights."

Parents can learn more about their rights in the book "Parents Guide to Special Education" which is published by the Virginia Department of Education. Hodges says the book covers all federal rights under the law when it comes to an individualized education program (IEP).

This is a program for children who qualify for special education services by their local public school district.

Hodges says parents must stand up and advocate for their children.

"When they have a child with special needs and they have an IEP, parents are a part of that IEP team to help determine what services they need," Hodges says. "Parents need to know this, and many of them don't."

If they have legal questions, they can contact an attorney," Hodges adds. Now Hodges says she plans to engage state lawmakers to see if any policy changes surrounding special needs students and truancy laws need to be addressed.