Mt. Vernon Register-News

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November 29, 2012

Standardized attendance policies in the works

The standardized attendance policies can help combat truancy in schools

MT. VERNON — — A collaborative effort between the 2nd Judicial Circuit Youth Council, Regional Superintendents of Schools and the State’s Attorneys is leading to a standardized attendance policy in schools.

The judicial circuit encompasses 12 counties in Southern Illinois, including Jefferson and Hamilton counties. Ron Daniels, regional superintendent of schools for the two counties said he believes it would be beneficial to have consistent attendance policies.

“I think it makes things easier,” Daniels said. “I think it makes it easier to follow attendance and follow truancy.”

Daniels and Matt Donklin, regional superintendent of Franklin County, are on board with the initiative, as are Jefferson County State’s Attorney Doug Hoffman and Hamilton County State’s Attorney Justin Hood. Meetings have been slated with the remaining superintendents and State’s Attorneys within the judicial circuit.

Daniels said the move to standard attendance policies in Hamilton and Jefferson Counties started last year.

“When Carrie Docherty took over the position with the ROE, she got copies of the policies from the schools and evaluated the policies,” Daniels explained. “The major issue is the variety of the number of days a student can miss without having a doctor’s note because of illness. That’s one of the main issues we come across — how people report and when they report.”

Daniels said some school districts just ask for a parent or guardian to call the school saying the student is sick, others require a note from the doctor after six days to be an excused absence.

“We end up having students called in 20 to 30 times in a school year as sick,” Daniels said. “We don’t want to burden parents by having them go to a doctor all the time, but if a student has been absent that many days, there is something going on or they don’t want to come to school.”

Daniels said in putting together a policy, it is also important to have flexibility.

“Sometimes, you know what is going on. When you have a student who, let’s say, broke their ankle and was out then gets sick with the flu, you know what’s going on. It’s the ones who call in over and over again that don’t want to come to school, we can try to approach a little bit differently.”

At this time, there is also inconsistencies when students go from grade schools to the various high schools in the area.

“The grade schools are different on reporting absences than the high schools, so there is a change at the high school level with the feeder schools,” Daniels said.

The bottom line in standardizing attendance policies is to combat truancy.

“In the first quarter this year, August and September, we had 37 first referral letters,” Daniels said. “A referral letter comes after three unexcused absences. ... Over the last year, in the 2011-12 school year, there were a total of 267 first referral letters, 70 students and parents who had to appear before the Truancy Review Board — which happens after six unexcused absences — and 28 parents and students who were petitioned to the court.”

Daniels said absences matter, as students can’t learn if they aren’t in school.

“They fall way behind,” Daniels said. “They are at risk to drop out. We’ve had three students so far this year who along with their parents have been ordered to go before the Truancy Review Board and one of those three were petitioned to court to go before a judge.”

Daniels said on a positive note, out of the 267 referral letters sent last year to parents, only 11 percent had to go before a judge.

“Something happened, something changed and the kids were not showing truancy any more,” Daniels said. “Sometimes, it’s just simply the absence wasn’t called in properly or the parents were not aware of the absences.”

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