Student participation rises due to new attendance policy

Michelle Stuckey
May 27, 2011 at 9:37 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Since new attendance requirements were implemented in Louisiana last August, attendance in St. Charles Parish public schools has consistently risen each quarter.

Average daily attendance is at 96.6 percent, up from 95.2 percent at the same time last year.

The new legislation allows students to miss almost half the amount of days that they were previously allowed to miss. In high school, that means students are only allowed to miss five days per class - they were previously allowed eight days per course. Elementary and middle school students are allowed to miss only 10 days per school year, down from the previously allowed 17 days per year.

The Child Welfare and Attendance department has been working diligently throughout the year to make sure the new attendance requirements did not catch anyone off guard, especially high school students.

Jerry Smith, director of the department, said that her office has taken many initiatives to prevent truancy and excessive absences, including counseling students, calling parents and making home visits.

Smith said that the schools have also entered into an agreement with the 29th Judicial Court judges for a Truancy Court that met two days per week throughout the year to hear truancy cases. She said that over 55 cases were heard this year.

“Outcomes included students being ordered to attend school, parents being ordered to get their students to school, students and parents being ordered to perform community services and students being held in detention on non-school days,” Smith said.

Last fall the state also changed requirements for parents who approved of their children discontinuing high school. Parents are no longer able to sign their 17-year-olds out of school. While 16-year-olds qualify for a GED waiver under limited criteria, their year-older counterparts do not qualify.

Smith said that while there was some concern over those 17-year-olds who had mutually agreed with their parents they would be leaving school this year, that ended up not being a significant problem. Seventeen-year-old students who did leave school were either referred to Truancy Court or allowed to attend the Youth Challenge Program.

After the new attendance requirements were changed last fall, the local school district began an attendance recovery program that allowed students who missed between six and 10 days to spend time after school making up the hours they missed in each course.

“It's an awesome program where the students are allowed to go after school…and pay back the hours they missed from that class and once they've successfully done that, then that student maintains the credit for that course,” Smith said. “If they pay the time back, it's as though they were not absent.”

Smith said they are still waiting for conclusive attendance recovery data for the entire year from each high school, but that mid-year results were good.

For the fall semester at Hahnville High School, 60 percent of the students who qualified for the program participated in it, and 56 percent recovered their credits. At Destrehan High, 52 percent of qualified students participated and 59 percent of credits were recovered.

The attendance recovery program is only available to high school students because missing classes affects them the most, Smith said. She said that high school credits carry more weight because they could be the difference between a student graduating or dropping out.

Since the district is paying for the attendance recovery program, funding is a significant restraint on the ability to expand the program to elementary and middle schools, Smith said.

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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