Officials crack down on truancy

Published 6:39 pm Saturday, October 30, 2010

Suffolk Public Schools administrators, community agencies and the court system are teaming up to put a dent in truancy.

This school year, administrators are trying out a pilot program at four schools that holds parents and students more accountable to the schools and the law for repeated absences.

“The whole community is participating in finding a solution to truancy, because it’s a community problem,” said Kevin Alston, Suffolk Public Schools assistant superintendent. “We’re coming up with a community solution to get those students off the streets and keep them from being there the rest of their life.”


Email newsletter signup

The program is being implemented at Kilby Shores and Mack Benn Jr. elementary schools, King’s Fork Middle School and Lakeland High School. The four schools were selected because they had a high number of students with 10 or more unexcused absences last school year.

“If you look at the percentage of absences in schools, you can see we don’t have a major truancy problem,” Alston said. “The problem we have is students who are routinely truant. It’s those students that are routinely truant that are at a high risk to drop out later on down the road.”

The new program incorporates more personal contact between parents and the school and informing parents about the compulsory education law. Parents who continue to allow their children to skip school could receive a court summons.

At every school, when a student receives three unexcused absences, parents are notified by letter of the protocol and possible consequences. Standard practice calls for another letter to be sent when an additional two unexcused absences are accumulated.

However, in the pilot program, the schools make personal contact with parents after five unexcused absences, and parents must sign a letter stating that they understand their children must attend school between the ages of 5 and 18.

“Some parents and students don’t know the law,” Alston said. “I had one student think they didn’t have to attend school after the age of 16. It was that way once, but not anymore. They need to be educated about the law.”

Parents of truant children are also called to an in-school meeting with an “attendance review committee,” which includes the assistant principal, a teacher, the attendance clerk, a school nurse, a school social worker, a probation officer and a school resource officer.

After seven unexcused absences, under the new program, parents are summoned to a meeting with a “truancy review team” that includes the assistant principal, homeschool liaison, a school based and a Social Services social worker, a probation officer and a school resource officer.

At those meetings, school officials work with the family to create an action plan to keep students in school. Parents who do not attend the meetings or comply with the plans created will receive a summons to Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, where proceedings could be filed.

Before, it took a significant amount of paperwork before a summons could be issued, Alston said.

“We’re trying to put teeth into the approach,” he said. “You’ll find some parents are enablers of their student’s truancy. It’s important to get them involved.”

Three summonses already have been issued this year for parents of Suffolk Public School students, according to Alston.