WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A mother who has been charged with several counts of truancy for not making her child go to school is wrapping up her jail sentence Friday.
Earlier this week, Shawna Gray, 38, of Wayne County, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor truancy. As part of the plea deal, two other truancy charges were dropped.
Gray was sentenced to 10 days in jail, but the sentence was suspended to 24 hours in jail. She served 12 of those hours on Thursday, and is serving the other 12 hours Friday.
Gray is also on probation until the end of the school year. The prosecutor's office says if she gets into trouble before the school year ends, she will have to spend the other nine days in jail.
Wayne County Prosecutor Tom Plymale tells WSAZ.com that Gray took her children with her to court this week and the judge asked her why her children were not in school.
Earlier this year, Gray was the defendant in the first truancy trial ever in Wayne County. It resulted in a hung jury.
Gray is the mom who was on trial earlier this week for her son’s alleged truancy. It was first truancy trial in the Wayne County and ended in a hung jury.
The case involves only a misdemeanor charge, but a trial was requested by Gray.
This was not Gray's first run-in with the school board regarding attendance. Last year, the same child missed more than 50 days. Gray says her child’s absences are due to asthma and heart problems.
Prosecutors tell WSAZ.com the new trial will take place sometime between March and July. They say it will be the same charge, but will be updated with the latest attendance numbers for her son who is in the first grade.
This week’s trial was for attendance numbers between August and November. Prosecutors tell WSAZ.com that he has since missed days.
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Now, the mom involved is speaking out.
The school district says it’s just trying to protect the child and his education.
But Shawna Gray says her child is ill, and she's more concerned about his health than filing paperwork with the school district.
Gray’s first-grade son missed a third of the first 60 days of school. He suffers from chronic asthma and a heart condition. But the school district says she blatantly disregarded the guidelines for making sure he was excused.
“If you completely ignore us and you ignore all of the notices that we're sending and the warnings that we're telling you that it's getting to the point where you could be petitioned to court, you're only hurting yourself and you're not helping your child,” Attendance Director Terri Lynn Queen said.
Gray says her focus was elsewhere.
“When you have a sick child, and you're worried about your sick kid -- the last thing on your mind is running to the doctor to get a doctor's excuse,” Gray said.
“The key to that is communication,” Queen said. “You have to communicate with your schools, your principals, the administration. That's why they're there.”
Queen says she simply wants to make sure the child in question is getting the education he needs. And when he's out of school -- and the district doesn't know why -- they have to take action.
“Our job here is to just make sure people follow the rules that are in place to protect children,” Queen said.
For Gray, there are no regrets.
“If you had it to do over again, would you have just done the paperwork?” WSAZ.com's Lauren Schmoll asked.
“I don't know that I would've done anything different,” Gray said. “Because I'm caring for a sick child.”
At this point, the Prosecutor’s Office has not yet decided where it will go from here. Gray could face a retrial in front of a different jury. She faces up to 20 days in jail if she is convicted.
About 6 p.m. Monday, the case resulted in a hung jury, according to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. That means a verdict was not reached.
While the case involves just a misdemeanor charge, the mother Shawna Gray requested a jury trial. The reasons for that are unclear.
It's not her first run in with the school board regarding attendance. Last year, the same child missed more than 50 days. Depending on the outcome of the trial, she could spend up to 20 days in jail.
Gray says her child’s absences are due to asthma and heart problems.
The school district couldn't comment on this case specifically, but the assistant superintendent says attendance has to be a priority.
“If kids aren't in school, we can't teach them,” Assistant Superintendent Lynn Hurt said. “It also starts work habits. They learn that they have to be somewhere. They learn that they have to be responsible with their books and things like that. It goes a long way with a lot of things.”
While the school district doesn't expect more cases like this to go to trial, there is a very important message to parents:
“Bottom line, come to school,” Hurt said.
“And for parents of kids who legitimately can't be there?” WSAZ.com's Lauren Schmoll asked.
“Follow the process so that we have the paperwork that we need in a timely fashion,” Hurt said.
The school district says it has options for parents in cases like this, including a program where teachers will come to the home if a child is too ill to go to school.
WSAZ.com also spoke with Cabell County School administrators who say they do not recall ever having a truancy case lead to a jury trial.