Thousands of Ohio students are truant every year, and many are expelled because they don’t come to school. A trio of Republican lawmakers have a proposal to deal with the problem.
There were more than 210,000 suspensions issued during the 2012-13 school year, according to the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio. And 6,000 of those suspensions were from excessive truancy. Republican state representatives Andrew Brenner of Powell, Jeff Rezabek of the Dayton area and Bill Hayes of Granville have a measure they say will help keep kids in school. Hayes said students and schools need the chance to deal with attendance problems, in contrast to the way it works right now, when truant kids can end up with criminal records declaring them delinquent before they can get into diversion programs. “Typically, in our current system, you either file an unruly charge or a delinquency charge to have them declared truant by the juvenile court. We’re going to stop that,” Hayes said. “It doesn’t mean that they cannot become delinquent in time, but it won’t be until we go through several intervention programs to reach that point. The second thing we’re going to stop doing is we’re going to stop suspending kids from school because they’re not coming to school, or expelling them because they’re not coming to school.”
3,400 expulsions issued during the 2012-13 school year, and while some were for excessive truancy, not all were. The bill would also require schools to notify parents and guardians before their child’s number of absence reaches the truancy level. And Hayes said it also requires bringing together the parents or guardians, school officials such as the school principal and a teacher and the student. “That team has to be put together within 10 days of the child reaching the point of truancy. Once that team is formed, that team must put a plan together within 30 days to address this specific child’s truancy and how it’s going to be dealt with.”
That’s a lot of people to get involved – and those working in education say in some districts and in some families, such a team may not be possible to assemble. Damon Asbury is with the Ohio School Boards Association and is a former superintendent. He said sometimes parents don’t have much control over a truant teenager, and some districts don’t have a school psychologist or similar staff to join a big group to develop a plan. “We believe that, generally speaking, the more you can involve the parents or guardian, the student and the principal and teacher, that’s fine,” said Asbury. “That’s better than dragging in a host of counselors and psychologists and mental health professionals in the intervention team.”
But Asbury says overall, the proposal is a step forward in dealing with excessive truancy – especially since it removes truancy from the “zero tolerance” policy, which can require the one-size-fits-all punishment of suspension or expulsion. And the state’s largest teachers’ union is interested as well. Becky Higgins speaks for the Ohio Education Association. “What I like about it is that it encourages earlier intervention if a student is habitually missing school. Early intervention is the key.” And Higgins says the OEA hopes to work with lawmakers and others involved in the truancy issue to come up with recommendations on how to better engage and support these at-risk students.
The bill was introduced just before lawmakers left for the holiday break, so it has yet to have a committee hearing.