Mother, 4 students jailed for contempt of court

FERNANDEZ,BELEN Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts found a Porter woman in contempt of court on Thursday and ordered her to spend 72 hours in the Montgomery County Jail, after her refusal to comply with court orders geared toward keeping her child in school.

Belen Marcado Fernandez, 44, of Porter, is charged with contempt of court and held without bond by Immigration Customs Enforcement because jail officials were unable to verify her citizenship.

Fernandez has been in the Pct. 4 courtroom repeatedly over the last four years because of her daughter’s failure to attend school. According to court records, Fernandez’s first appearance for “contributing to non-attendance” was on May 10, 2007.

On January 13, Judge Metts ordered Fernandez to attend school with her now 16-year-old daughter.

“I’ll only send mothers or fathers to school with their children as a last resort, because I know it can place a hardship on the family,” Judge Metts said. “But I’m trying to save the children’s future, and if that’s what it takes – I’ll do it.”

“Often times, just the warning of sending a parent to school with their child corrects the behavior because the parent doesn’t want to miss work or rearrange their schedule, and the child certainly doesn’t want the embarrassment of having their parent in all of their classes,” he said. “Some people may consider it an extreme measure, and maybe it is, but it’s extremely important for these kids to get an education, and it’s my responsibility to do any and everything I can to see that happen.”

Fernandez accompanied her daughter to school for a few days, and then stopped. Because she disobeyed a court order, Fernandez was subpoenaed to court. She not only failed to produce evidence that would excuse her from compliance, she became belligerent and insisted the judge, and court records were incorrect.

As a result, Judge Metts found Fernandez in contempt and sentenced her to what equates to three days in jail. He was unaware of her immigration issues at that time. Fernandez’s daughter remains court ordered to attend school.

Four students were also jailed for contempt of court after repeated warnings and opportunities to comply with court orders to attend school.

“Sometimes, students leave me no choice but to place them in jail and give them a taste of what they’re headed for if they don’t straighten up,” he said. “I do this to get their attention, and make them realize this isn’t what they want for their future.”

Judge Metts ordered 15 students to the Attendance Improvement Management, or “AIM” program, which is a more positive alternative to the ankle monitors sometimes used to combat truancy.

Many students previously ordered into the AIM program were in court to return their monitors and the vast majority had very positive results. Changes in those students’ attitudes were obvious when the judge commended their efforts as they stood before him smiling alongside their parents.

“My staff and I put a lot of time and effort into these fail to attend cases and the success stories are what make our jobs worthwhile,” Judge Metts said.

“I understand that these are difficult times and harder for some families than others, but if a child does not at least get a high school diploma, he has very little hope for a better life,” he said. “People may not always agree with my rulings, but I think the increased attendance rates in Precinct 4 show we’re on the right track.”

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