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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

TACKLING TRUANCY

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Schools address problem aggresively

By BRANDON A. PERRY

For many school districts across the country truancy, or a student’s unauthorized absence from classes, has become a significant challenge.

Truancy is often an accurate indicator of involvement in crime, unemployment, psychiatric problems and eventual drop out from school. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 80 percent of individuals in prison were one time truants and 95 percent of juvenile offenders have been truant.

“Chronic truancy is a growing concern as we work to reduce drop outs in Indiana. Dr. Suellen Reed, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction recently noted. “We need to identify factors within our control, so that we can effectively intervene to help students.”

In Marion County some school districts have hired additional personnel and developed new programs with law enforcement and court officials to respond to students who are habitually absent from school.

“Truancy is definitely one area where we have had to offer increased attention,” said Tom Langdoc, spokesman for Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township. “Throughout the year we are working with the judicial system to identify causes of truancy and set good behavior and attendance policies.”

Kim Hooper, spokesperson for Indianapolis Public Schools, said the district is one of several that have responded to truancy by engaging parents and informing them of its consequences.

“We’re doing everything that can be done short of actually going to the homes and getting the students out of bed ourselves,” said Hooper. “We rely on parents to make sure their children get to school, whether they have them ride the bus or take them to school.”

In the strictest definition a student is considered truant if they have just one unexcused absence. State law, however, requires that students miss no more than 5 percent of their classes and various school districts have a different limit of unexcused absences that may take place before a student becomes truant.

All school districts in Marion County are staffed with attendance officers or social workers who check attendance records and contact the families of students who have too many unexcused absences.

Contact is usually made via mail or phone and the state’s attendance laws are carefully explained. If necessary, the officers or social workers will also visit the home or ask parents to have a meeting at the school.

If the student continues to have poor attendance then their case is recommended for a truancy hearing facilitated by the Marion County Juvenile Court. A truancy court judge and a team including parents, other family members, school officials and other supporters will create a plan to raise the student’s attendance. If that doesn’t happen a high school or middle school student could face time in juvenile jail, and parents of truant elementary students will face criminal penalties.

James Taylor, a social worker at Warren Central High School, noted that there are several common causes for truancy.

“Behind every attendance problem is a social problem,” he said. “Many students are dealing with domestic violence in their homes, depression and a myriad of issues that can make them not want to come to school, and they develop a habit.”

Taylor said some upper classmen allow employment to interfere with their school schedule. He doesn’t sign work permits for students with poor attendance and failing grades and encourages parents to not let children have a job unless they are able to handle the additional workload.

“It’s also important to do everything possible to not let students drop out and keep them in a learning environment, even if it means placing them in alternative settings such as adult classes and magnet programs,” Taylor said.

Charles “Tony” Knight, an attendance officer at Warren Central, encourages grandparents, uncles, aunts and mentors to help overwhelmed parents instill the importance of learning in students.

“Every day from first grade a student needs an adult who will express interest in how they are doing in school,” Knight said.

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