By Dedra Cordle
A policy change regarding student absences has some parents in the South-Western City Schools District alarmed.
It began with a letter in the mail from the district informing the parent or guardian that their child had met the benchmark for being “excessively truant” and an intervention plan may be recommended.
For most of these parents, their child had been recovering from an illness or surgery and believed a doctor’s note would be sufficient to explain the prolonged absences from school. Regardless, they received a letter of notification regarding truancy.
“This has caused some excitement amongst parents and quite a few conversations,” said Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise at the Nov. 27 board of education meeting.
To bring clarity to the new policy, student services coordinator Amber Hufford came to the meeting to update the audience on these changes.
The district’s policy changes began to form in December 2016 when the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 410 to address student truancy and disciplinary measures. Amongst the required policy changes, which were to go into effect in the 2017/18 school year, was the abolishment of excessive truancy from zero tolerance policy, the prohibition of suspension or expulsion for a student solely on the basis of unexcused absences and an updated definition for excessively and habitual truant as well as mandated procedures for when the student hits truancy triggers.
According to Hufford, excessively truant is now defined as a student who is absent, either excused or unexcused, 38 or more hours a month (six days) or 65 or more hours in a year (11 days).
Wise explained that this is largely for unexcused absences, but parents whose children received excused absences will still be notified of excessive truancy due to the new state guideline.
Additionally, habitually truant is now defined as a student who is absent – unexcused – 30 or more consecutive hours (five days); 42 or more hours in a month (seven days); or 72 hours in a school year (12 days.)
Hufford said the required actions of a habitually truant student is to provide written notice to a parent and then assign the student to an absence intervention team (which consists of a representative from the school or district, another representative from the school or district who has a relationship with the child, and the parent/guardian). When that team is assembled, an Absence Intervention Plan (AIP) would be developed. Should the parent fail to respond to these attempts, Hufford said the next step is to investigate if mandatory reporting is triggered and develop the AIP without the parent. The district would then provide the AIP to parents within seven days of the plan’s development.
Hufford said if those steps are ignored or the intervention is not successful, the district could file a complaint in juvenile court “no later than 61 calendar days after plan implementation” and call Children’s Services.
As of Nov. 17, Hufford said 1,559 excessively truant letters have been sent and 569 letters of habitual truant letter have been sent.
Hufford also added that the district has partnered with the Educational Career Center of Central Ohio and truancy officers from the Franklin County court system to provide additional intervention assistance.
In other news, Carl Metzger, the assistant superintendent of personnel, announced at the meeting that Lisa Mehl has been hired as the district’s food services supervisor. She is taking over for Beth Glitt, who announced her resignation in September. The change is effective Dec. 31, 2017.