The 57-year-old Greenacres mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, pleaded guilty in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Thursday to 10 counts of failing to send her children – aged 13 and 15 – to school.
The Education Department elected to prosecute after her son did not attend a north-eastern suburbs primary school between July and August last year, and her daughter failed to go to her high school in September and October.
A department spokesman said the children did not attend school for about 100 days.
But the case has angered SA domestic violence advocate Arman Abrahimzadeh, who says the real perpetrator in the case was the children’s father.
The Zahra Foundation co-founder — whose mother Zahra was killed by her husband in 2010 — said if the mother was not subjected to violence, her children may not have missed school.
“The perpetrator is a significant person in this court case and they are missing (from the proceedings),” he said. “Where is the perpetrator to take at least half of that punishment?”
Magistrate Elizabeth Sheppard read a letter in court written by the mother, who wrote that she knew education was important.
“You say you had gone through a breakdown of a relationship with the children’s father ... characterised by domestic violence, which the children have witnessed,” she said.
“You believe the children have suffered because of that – both refusing to attend school at times. The stress of forcing the children to attend school ... overwhelmed you, so you allowed them to stay home.”
The department’s lawyer acknowledged that the mother was a domestic violence victim, suffered from mental health issues and struggled financially.
“(But) there should be a conviction recorded — a message needs to be sent to the community of the importance of making every effort possible to make sure children attend school,” he said.
He said the department had offered the mother counselling, transport and support to help her keep the children in school, especially given her son was struggling.
“It’s very difficult for the child to get the help he needs (if he’s not in school),” he said.
“It’s understandable you’re struggling to cope (but) there were resources available to help you.”
When imposing the conviction, which was the “most significant part of the penalty”, judge Sheppard said a message needed to be sent to ensure parents in difficult situations were not neglecting their children by keeping them from school.
She imposed a $300 fine and victims of crimes levies.