PRINCETON, WV, FEBRUARY 8, 2012:   School administrators are already seeing improved student attendance, the result – many believe – of recent collaboration with the judicial system in cases of chronic truancy.   In January, the Board of Education updated the county’s attendance policy to address other attendance concerns including tardiness and early dismissals.

Under the new policy, three unexcused tardies to school will count as one unexcused absence in referrals made to the courts and to the Department of Health and Human Services.  Likewise, for each three times a student leaves school early without the proper excuse or documentation, he will receive another unexcused absence.

Unexcused absences caused by tardies or early dismissals will be added to the student’s number of days truant.  Students who amass ten or more unexcused absences in a school year may be referred by the county attendance director for Circuit Court or DHHR intervention.

Superintendent Deborah Akers said, “It is vitally important that students are in school, that they arrive on time, and stay until the school day is complete.  One of the proven predictors for a student dropping out is poor school attendance.”

The district acknowledges that students have legitimate reasons for being absent, and that parents cannot entirely avoid scheduling doctor or dental appointments during the school day.  Attendance Policy (J-10), posted on the Mercer County Schools website and available at each school, spells out acceptable circumstances for which an absence, tardy, or early dismissal is excused. 

Through a recent collaboration with the judicial system, students in grades 6-12 are being called before a judge when unexcused absences reach an unacceptable level – usually more than ten.  Circuit Court judges have the authority to charge them as status offenders, require a personal recognizance bond, and impose penalties including supervised probation. When truancy is especially severe, students can be relocated to a facility with a school on campus.

Because truancy among young children is often an indication of parental neglect, a different approach is applied in cases of children in grades K-5.   Parents are referred to the Department of Health and Human Resources for parenting classes, financial assistance, counseling, health evaluations, and other services.

The district is also using the media and other means to publicize the importance of school attendance.

Data indicate that in America, seven thousand students drop out of school every day, and the biggest predictor of dropping out is poor attendance.  Eight out of ten dropouts end up in prison at some point in their lives.  Dropouts are also far more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, live below the poverty line, and become involved with illegal substances.