“I think truancy is a big problem. We’ve got to figure out a way to get a handle on it,” Allred said. “I’ve got some ideas that I think will help, and I’ve got some information for y’all ... I’m here to try to help us all work with a problem that we’re all having.”
According to the 2013-2014 Walker County Student Handbook, no more than two absences per nine weeks will be excused by parent notes unless prior permission was granted by the principal. The “Attendance Answers” guide for parents located on the Jasper City Schools’ website states that all city elementary schools and the middle school are allowed three days per nine weeks or six days per semester excused by parent notes.
Only three parent notes per semester will be accepted at Walker High School.
The county hand book also states that students in grades kindergarten through eighth may be retained due to excessive absences.
Students in high school (grades 9-12) may be denied academic course credit if the student accumulates more than 20 absences per course per year and has accumulated 12 or more unexcused absences out of a total of the 20 or more absences per course for the school year.
When a student misses more than the limit allowed by either system, his or her name and their parents/guardians’ names are given to the county juvenile court for participation in the Early Warning Program.
The first phase of the program is basically a warning for the student and the parent. Once they have met with the juvenile probation officers and adhere to their warnings, no official case will be held against them.
However, if the aforementioned student receives additional unexcused absences once they have completed phase one, it could result in having a petition filed against the student and their parent.
“It’s not until the third step that we really get into what we can do from a sanction standpoint,” Allred said, “and once we have ordered a child and their parents to not have any more unexcused absences, then on the third go around we can actually come in and say, ‘OK mom and dad, you’re in contempt of the judge’s order. I’m going to put you in jail for five days each day that you’ve missed. ... If they’re in contempt, we can detain them.”
Yet, the problem is that when the child finally gets around to seeing Allred, they have already missed anywhere from 20 to 60 days of school. He said then the parents /guardians will take the kid(s) out of public school and start them in home school.
“That drives me crazy. I don’t think we’re effectively serving our kids doing that,” Allred said. “I want to try to figure out a way where we can step these sanctions up.”
From a law standpoint, Allred suggested two ways that could possibly help curb the absenteeism issues within the schools — charging the parents directly or removing the child from the custody of their parents on the grounds of finding that child dependent if they’re not attending school.
In the county hand book under Alabama’s Compulsory Attendance and Student Behavior Laws, Sections 16-28-12 and 16-28-16 of the Code of Alabama “requires that any parent/guardian who enrolls a student in school be responsible for the student’s regular attendance and proper conduct, regardless of age or grade level of the student.”
Principals, assistant principals, central office administration and juvenile probation officers, Mark Jarvis and Shawn Robinson, mentioned developing a form during the Early Warning Program that will contain not only the child’s information but the parents’ information also.
This will give the officers and the judge enough detailed information to serve a warrant for taking the parent(s) to jail if they reach the third phase of the truancy process.
Different ones voiced several examples of repeat attendance offenders and options regarding those who miss school on a regular basis. Some asked about cutting the number of medical excuses; another spoke of fraudulent or altered excuses, which if found would lead straight to charges of truancy.
Jarvis said when he first started working truancy cases, he was able to send kids to boot camp, reform school, etc. But, now “we can’t do that anymore, nothing. We can’t do anything to the kids anymore, and that’s basically what it boils down to. We need to put pressure on the parents.”
Corey Shubert, principal at Lupton Jr. High, said the problem isn’t just in the city and county schools, but it’s a nationwide issue.
“Truancy is the utmost important part of education. If they’re not here, they can’t learn,” Shubert said. “As far as we’re concerned, attendance and discipline are the two key components of education.”
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get these people on the right track. It’s important stuff,” Allred said. “... It’s a big enough problem that we’re going to look at those options.”