A new law recently passed gives truant students under 18 years old more options.
The law comes after changes in the state attendance and drop-out policies earlier this year had school administrators worried about students being truant.
The new legislation allows students to miss almost half the amount of days that they were previously allowed to miss.
Under the law, students who are ruled to be truant by the court will have three options: reenroll in high school and work towards graduation, enroll in a GED program and make continual progress, or enlist in the Louisiana National Guard or branch of the U.S. Armed Forces with a commitment of at least two years of services while also working to earn a GED during those two years.
Jerry Smith, director of child welfare and attendance for the St. Charles school district, said that the option of joining the military is new under this law.
Smith also said that the district has been working with the court system to put something in place to deal with possible high numbers of truant students later in the year.
In high school, students will only be allowed to miss five days per class. They were previously allowed eight days per course.
Elementary and middle school students will only be allowed to miss 10 days per school year, down from the previously allowed 17 days per year.
Elementary or middle school students who miss more than the allowed number of days will be held back. High school students who exceed the maximum number of missed days for a specific class will have to repeat that class.
Administrators were concerned for students who are 17 years old and planned to drop out of school. Under the new law, parents can no longer sign off allowing their 17-year-old children to drop out of school. Whereas 16-year-olds qualify for a GED waiver under very limited criteria, 17-year-olds do not qualify and will have to attend school.
“My concern would be for those 17-year-olds who kind of neutrally agreed with their parents that when they turned 17 they’re going to drop out,” Smith said. “If they don’t go to school, that would render them truant and if you’re truant you can be referred to the court system for that.”
The policy regarding parents writing notes to excuse their children has also changed.
Before, if a child went over the amount of days that the state department allowed them to miss, a parent could provide a note or a medical note and they would be allowed to advance to the next grade.
“Now the parent can write two parent notes per nine weeks for elementary and middle schools and four parent notes per semester at the high school level,” Smith said. “However, if the child has exceeded whatever the cap of days is, the parent can’t write any notes and medical notes will only cover their absence if they’re out three consecutive days or more.”