Mark Denicore leaves early for work each morning from his home in Waterford. His wife, Amy, is in charge of getting their three children ready and out the door for school.
With three children, all under age 10, it can be challenging to get them ready all at once and make it to school on time.
What is every parent’s early-morning routine challenge has now turned into a legal battle and a potential life-changing event for the family.
On Jan. 31, the Denicores were served with a summons to appear in court on a Class 3 misdemeanor for their daughter Sophie’s excessive tardiness.
The Denicores admit they’re not perfect parents. Their three children have been late to school 85 times since September, but the majority of the time they missed the opening bell by only a few minutes.
Mark and Amy Denicore appeared at the Loudoun County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Feb. 6 in front of Judge Pamela Brooks for an arraignment.
They’re scheduled for trial on March 14.
Mark Denicore, who works as an attorney, says he could potentially lose his license to practice law if he loses the case, not to mention paying upwards of $3,000 in fines for his children’s tardiness.
The three children have only missed less than three hours each of school since September, Mark Denicore said.
“I would say that it’s pretty extreme. The Virginia truancy statutes is for kids that are blowing off school without their parent’s knowledge, not for this kind of thing,” Mark Denicore said. “They’re taking a lot of leeway in their interpretation of what the code says to make it criminal conduct, it’s outrageous.”
Although he and his wife had been warned of the constant tardies, they didn’t feel that the school system would take it to this extreme.
“We understand the school is running a train and they want everybody in the train station before the train leaves,” Mark Denicore said. “I understand that this is a legitimate goal to have and we are doing our best to try to comply to that. But, we’re not perfect parents. We don’t have perfect kids and sometimes we’re late. The real issue is is that criminal conduct? I can’t find it in the statues.”
Amy Denicore is a stay-at-home mom and either drives their children to school or allows them to walk the few blocks to Waterford Elementary.
Wayde Byard, Loudoun County Public School’s public information officer, said the first mission of the school system is to help the child and help the parent help the child.
“The judges have asked us to turn over chronic attendance issues such as this. We issue no summons on anybody. The procedure is after five days we’ll call the parent and say we need to talk about this,” Byard said. “There’s obviously a recurrent pattern developing here. After six days of unexcused absences we’ll have a parent conference and we’ll try to get a strategy going on how can we help you get your child to school, have them here on time and ready to learn.”
Mark Denicore said his family received numerous warnings and correspondence from the school system about his children’s tardiness, but the family has never had a conference with officials to discuss the issue. Mark Denicore did request a meeting between the school’s principal, attendance officer and legal counsel, but the school system never responded.
Byard said the school system has five attendance officers in charge of investigating cases with schools to improve student attendance and enforce compulsory attendance laws. The attendance officers also initiate legal actions against parents or guardians who unlawfully cause their child to be absent from school, among other times, Byard said.
Byard said by Virginia State Code, school officials have to report anything that would affect a child’s welfare at school. He also said that the last step would be taking the information to the intake officer within the court system after numerous attempts to work with the family.
“After that it would have to be only very chronic level cases where the school level has failed where we’ll take it to the intake officer at the juvenile and domestic relations court who will then take it to a magistrate if they deem it worthy of that attention and then they issue a summons,” Byard said. “The judge will decide if there will be a hearing. This is not us arresting people on the street.”
According to Mark Denicore’s records, his daughter Daisy has been late 29 times since September. His daughter, Sophie, has been late 27 times and his son, Tucker, has been late 29 times.
Mark and Amy Denicore will go to trial on March 14 and ask for the case to be dismissed. If the case isn’t dismissed, the Denicores will have their chance to defend themselves with character witnesses. According to Mark Denicore, Virginia State Code 22.1-254, which they are being charged under, doesn’t state anything about a child’s tardiness.
“I can’t figure it out …” Mark Denicore said.
According to Byard, there has been one other family summoned to court this year for the same issue the Denicores are involved in.
Mark Denicore also questioned students who are able to leave early from school and if they would get the same treatment as tardy students.
“I would like parents not to be bullied by the school system,” Denicore said. “We send our children to school so they can learn not to bullied.”
Mark Denicore said that not only did both he and his wife appear in court on Feb. 6, they also got all three of their children to school on time – but it wasn’t easy.
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