Sultan mother charged with criminal truancy

by: Gary Horcher Updated:

SULTAN, Wash. —

Lorie Kessler says when she pulled her daughter out of Sultan Middle School last January, she believed she was saving her daughter's life.  Now, she's being charged in court for her decision.

"I was not going to let my kid go to school in an unsafe situation, again," Keller said.

Kessler told KIRO-7 her daughter was the victim of relentless bullying last year.  She said it became so severe, her daughter tried to commit suicide. "It was life and death," Kessler said.  "When she was threatened in school again last January, I called the school and told them, she's coming home," Kessler said.  "Until you fix this problem and she's safe, she will not be in school."

Kessler says her daughter was home for two weeks in January.  "The attendance office just said 'OK,' let us know when she'll be back," Kessler said.

Last week, Kessler got a summons in the mail.  The Sultan School District is taking her to court. "The charge is for truancy," Kessler said.  "I'm shocked!  I never knew missing school for being bullied is a violation of the law," Kessler said.

Kessler says the school district never warned her that the absences were unexcused—as the Washington State Truancy law demands.  The law states a parent should be notified after only two unexcused absences.  After five, the law says a contract must be written between the parent and the school.  The goal is to improve attendance, and avoid criminal prosecution.

"Never once did they say to me, Ms. Kessler, this is illegal!  You are not allowed to keep your child home, this is an unexcused absence, it's against the law, none of that was ever said to me," Kessler said.

KIRO-7 documented a troubling trend in the Sultan School District last January, the same time Kessler removed her daughter from school. Several parents said their children were bullied, and that the district was slow to react.  An eighth-grade boy's suicide attempt brought the problem to KIRO-7's attention.  The boy's friends and their parents claimed the boy was mercilessly bullied in school.

When KIRO-7 called the district for comment in Kessler's case, Superintendent Dan Chaplik said he intended to investigate Kessler's case, and meet with her to personally settle the confusion.

Kessler says her daughter returned to school when she stopped seeing the threats online.  She says her daughter raised her grades, and her outlook on school was improving, until they received the court summons and advice from administrators.

"The school told me to get a good lawyer.  And good luck," she said.