September 3, 2013
Playing hooky from school has been an entertaining story line since the early days of public education.
From Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in the 1870s to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in the 1980s, books and movies have celebrated skipping class as youthful adventure — with an occasional lesson learned.
But the reality of truancy today is no laughing matter.
Fractured home lives, drugs and other problems contribute to a growing number of students regularly missing school days and falling behind in their education. During the 2012-2013 school year, 3,088 Cabell County students had a truancy problem, defined as accumulating five or more unexcused absences. That was 122 more than the previous year.
For too many, it is the first step on a long road to trouble.
Last year, local judges led a new initiative to bring students and their parents to court to stress the importance of attending school and the legal consequences they could face if they don’t. This year, the Cabell district has added a new school-based probation officer to help get the message out and the kids in class.
With the school year just underway, attendance numbers show the new position is much needed. About 150 middle school students had five or more unexcused absences in the first 12 days of school, prompting house calls from the new probation officer. …
Jackson plans to intervene with families when students reach three unexcused absences, as part of a diversion program to help them avoid a truant designation. The officer often will develop a “contract” that the parents and the student must follow. That can include random drug screens, home visits and curfews. If families fail to observe those provisions, the case can move to court.
Jackson’s first focus is on the middle schools, but the truancy problem is severe for lower grades as well. At several elementary schools, more than 30 percent of the students had five or more unexcused absences last year, and only two had less than 10 percent. Certainly, at that level, the parents have to be held responsible.
— The Herald Dispatch