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More needed to fight school truancy

July 26, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

Brooke County Board of Education members were warned Monday they may be hearing from students' parents about a blunt reminder of the state's ability to enforce school attendance requirements.

School district Attendance Director Valerie Smith told board members she has sent letters on the subject to parents of about 135 students. She already has heard from some of them, who may follow up by contacting board members, Smith said.

If that happens, board members discussing the issue with parents who may be upset about local and state policy should simply remind the adults that if they comply with the law, they and their children have nothing about which to worry.

Smith's letters warn parents state law requires that students under 17 years of age who have driver's licenses can lose them if they are absent from school too frequently. The rule is not terribly strict; loss of a license results only if a student has more than 15 unexcused absences during a school year, or 10 of them in a row.

More needs to be done to address truancy in Mountain State schools. In Brooke County, for example, the average attendance rate was 99.6 percent during the 2005-06 school year. But by 2010-11, the most recent year for which the state Department of Education had released statistics, the rate had dropped to 96.1 percent.

And Brooke County is not unusual. Truancy is a concern throughout the state, so much so that new initiatives - including some spearheaded by circuit court judges - have sprung up to address it.

Coincidentally, on the same day Smith talked to Brooke County school board members, a state official told legislators some success has been experienced against truancy. State Assistant Superintendent of Schools Amelia Courts said truancy statewide has been declining since the 2008-09 school year.

Initiatives to get tough on truancy seem to be working, then. Rest assured, however, the numbers will grow worse if deterrents against absenteeism are not enforced strictly. Attendance directors such as Smith should be given all the support possible by county school administrators and board of education members.

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