By MATT CHRISTIAN
Mercer County Board of Education unveiled a new attendance policy Tuesday, designed to compliment the recently established Truancy Program scheduled to take effect in January 2012.
Before the first policy reading began, Board of Education President Greg Prudich explained, “After 10 truants, that person is referred to the program started by Judge Aboulhosn.”
Absences are deemed truant in nature when a student misses school without an excuse from a doctor or as a result of a school-approved activity.
Prudich continued, “Three unexcused tardies or early dismissals are considered to be one truant for this program.”
After 10 unexcused absences, if a child is in fifth grade or below, that case will be referred to the Division of Health and Human Resources as a potential neglect and abuse petition.
While only one child may be considered truant, a neglect and abuse petition could involve the children residing in the household. At the time the petition is filed, the parents or guardians in question will be granted a six-month improvement period.
If after 90 days, the student is attending school regularly, the case could be dismissed. If the problems are still occurring then the petition will go forward with the most severe sanction being the removal of the children from the home.
Prudich continued, “After fifth grade, the student will be referred to the probation department.”
The student in question will be a status offender and the same 90-day time limit will apply meaning that if the student follows the conditions of their probation and attends class on time and everyday the case will be dismissed.
If there is no improvement, the case will continue with the least severe consequence being probation until the student has graduated from school and the most severe being the placement of the student in a correctional facility.
Prudich continued, “It’s our hope that parents will get the message that its not OK for children to miss school. It’s not about punishment. It’s about the court system looking into the situation and saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ That’s the intent of the policy.”
Finally Prudich said, “I know that there are a lot of kids out there that are not going to school because they don’t want to get up. The goal of this policy is to make them do what they need to do. Some people may call that tough love.”
The changes to the Mercer County Attendance Policy (J-10) involve limiting the ability of principals to accept parental notes to medical conditions only.
Board member Mary Alice Kaufman expressed her concern with that change.
She said, “I have a concern. There maybe extenuating circumstances that cause a child to miss. For example, there have been several children that have had the opportunity to go with the parents to Europe or India. We are putting principals in a bad place with this policy. We need to give the principals more discretion.”
Superintendent Deborah Akers responded, “The intent of this policy is that we expect people to be better planners. There are times in the calendar for that already built in.”
Vice President Gene Bailey who believed that three tardies equating to once absence was too much raised another concern.
He said, “If a student enters a class late, that not only steals from that student but from every student in that class.”
Bailey called for a more strict policy regarding tardies and early dismissals.
Another change to the policy requires principals to send notices to the parents after five days of unexcused absences and leaves referral to Judge Aboulhosn’s program at the sole discretion of the attendance director.
Akers revealed that the students that have already accrued over 10 days will be appearing in court soon.
She said, “The first large number of referrals to the program will happen in January. It’s our intent to have 100 or more cases appearing in front of the court beginning at 3:30 p.m. This will show people that we are serious.”
— Contact Matt Christian at firstname.lastname@example.org.