A newlywed couple who took their seven-year-old daughter out of school in term time for a £3,000 honeymoon to New York could still be jailed unless they accept a caution offered to them today by magistrates.
Janine and Shane Scott took Elissa to the Big Apple for five days without asking permission from the headteacher of St John the Baptist Church of England Primary School in Stockton-On-Tees, believing she would allow it under exceptional circumstances.
But they arrived back home to find £60 fines which they refused to pay on principle. This landed them in Teeside Magistrates Court, where a representative of Stockton Council said she would accept a caution if they pleaded guilty.
But Mr Scott, 27, remained defiant today, telling MailOnline: ‘But where’s the crime? That’s the question. We will just have to decide in the next week or something what’s going on. We will look at the form they send us and see if we can find a lawyer or something and see what they say and what they can do. We can’t just jump into it.’
Janine and Shane Scott took Elissa to the Big Apple for five days without asking permission from St John’s Primary School in Stockton-on-Tees. Pictured: Mr and Mrs Scott with Elissa (left) and their one-year-old son, Roman
The couple at Teeside Magistrates Court today, where they were offered a caution instead of a criminal record. They will now decide whether to accept it
The couple have insisted they were right to take Elissa out of school in term time because the trip, as a honeymoon, fell under ‘exceptional circumstances’. They added that the holiday was educational and involved visits to the 9/11 Memorial, National History Museum and Wall Street.
The court heard how they would not be handed a criminal record if they admitted the offence and the caution.
Mr Scott told the court: ‘We definitely don’t want a criminal record, I have never had one in my life.’
Mrs Scott who was visibly upset, said: ‘It’s just frustrating that the offer has only been made this morning.’
Ms Stowe suggested to magistrates that the case is adjourned so the couple could discuss their options.
She said: ‘I would suggest an adjournment might be the better choice to obtain legal advice.
‘We don’t want to prosecute somebody if they weren’t aware it was a criminal act and don’t realise it would lead to a conviction. We’re not heartless.
‘I will write out to Mr and Mrs Scott with a copy of the caution so they can read what it entails and consider it.’
The couple with Elissa at the Rockefeller Centre in New York during their trip from June 11 and July 20 this year
Chair of the bench David Gee told the pair: ‘The caution would really be the best option from your point of view in these circumstances. If the caution happens you don’t have to come back.’
Elissa meeting firemen in New York the trip from June 11 and July 20 this year
Magistrates adjourned the case until December 7.
Mr Gee added: ‘You have had a lot to take in this morning. The council are going to write to you with a copy of the caution.
‘If you’re happy with it, that’s how you will proceed. Thank you for attending today and please don’t worry about it.’
After the case, Mr Scott said: ‘We should never have been punished. We only took her on our honeymoon and holidays as that is when I can get off.
‘I can only have time off at certain times of the year. It’s either she goes then or she doesn’t do at all.’
Mrs Scott added: ‘I’m disappointed that we have been offered it this morning. They have had since September to make us an offer.
‘I’m disappointed that the magistrates are not going to have able to see what we have prepared for him if we go with the offer.’
Mr and Mrs Scott sign the wedding register after tying the note earlier this year. This photo is undated
The couple together (right) and with Elissa (left). Both of these photos are undated
Removing children from school without a headteacher’s permission is a strict liability defence, meaning intent is not required to found guilty.
A £60 fine is usually given per parent, per child, but this is at the discretion of the local council.
What are the penalties for taking your child away from school?
You have to get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time.
It’s up to the head teacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.
Local councils and schools can use various legal powers if your child is missing school without a good reason.
They can give you:
- A Parenting Order, which forces you to go to parenting classes and follow instructions given by the court to improve your child’s attendance;
- An Education Supervision Order, which sees the council appoint a supervisor to help improve your child’s attendance rates;
- A fine of £60, which rises to £120 if you don’t pay within 21 days. A fine is usually given per parent, per child, but this is at the discretion of the local council. If you don’t pay the fine after 28 days you could be prosecuted.
Prosecution could get a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence up to 3 months. The court also automatically gives you a Parenting Order.
This rises to £120 if you do not pay within 21 days, while non-payment after 28 days could lead to prosecution.
This may result in a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence up to 3 months. The court may also give a parenting order, forcing you to attend parenting classes.
Magistrates can also force parents to accept a supervisor to oversee their child’s school attendance.
Kerry Coe, head teacher at St John the Baptist C of E Primary School, said: ‘We expect good attendance from all of our pupils and always appreciate parental support in relation to this. The school’s policy is very clear in stating that we do not authorise holidays in term time unless there are exceptional circumstances.
‘What is particularly disappointing in this case is that the parents booked a holiday in term time without any prior discussion with the school, and then informed the school only after the holiday had already started.
‘We try to be fair to everybody and in our view, having drawn a very clear line that the vast majority of our parents respect, we were left with no choice but to request that a fixed penalty notice be issued when that line was crossed.’
The Mirror reported earlier that Mrs Scott was so upset by the incident that she quit her job as a mental health worker to become a full-time mother to Elissa, now aged eight, and one-year-old Roman.
Elissa had a 92.5% attendance record last year, with no absence taken since then.
Her parents will plead not guilty to magistrates, but as taking a child out of school in term time is a strict liability offence they have no defence.
Elissa next to a window overlooking the skyline of New York from the Rockefeller Centre during the five-day trip in June
Kerry Coe, the headteacher St John the Baptist Church of England Primary School in Stockton-on-Tees, (pictured in an undated photo) said she had no choice but to request a fine be issued