Proposal targets students who skip school

Juneau School District already has truancy punishments in place

Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Schools would get more leeway to punish truants and their parents under a bill being considered by the Alaska Legislature.

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The Juneau School District, however, may already be a step ahead in dealing with kids who cut class.

The bill is intended to help school districts where truancy is a major problem, said sponsor Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage. Under the proposed law, students who routinely skip classes would face juvenile detention or be sent to foster care if their parents are found negligent.

Local officials haven't taken a position on the proposed legislation, partly because the city and district have their own punitive measures in place, said Peggy Cowan, Juneau's superintendent of schools.

"The approach of the district is through a city ordinance, and the city ordinance supports the school and the parents in terms of having students have regular attendance," she said.

"It allows citations, or basically tickets, for students or parents. But that's not the first course of action." Cowan said the district tries to identify ways of keeping all students in class, beginning in elementary school.



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The district has added a "truancy tracker" staff position to keep tabs on school-skippers.

"The concern is that a pattern of truancy can lead to nonattendance, which can lead to dropping out, so we want to turn around that pattern as soon as we can," she said.

"Truancy is still a problem, but in terms of the percent of students who the truancy tracker has reached who are still enrolled in school, we think it is having a positive effect," Cowan said.

Mike Lesmann, community relations manager for the Office of Children's Services, said the department won't take a position on the bill before consulting the Department of Education and Early Development.

Under the bill, children's services would be responsible for those students found to be missing school because of parental neglect.

Carol Comeau, superintendent of the Anchorage School District, said she does not know whether the bill would help deter truancy. She said officials with the Office of Children's Services have been reluctant to get involved with truancy cases "unless they're already involved with that family."

Comeau said she expects Bunde's plan could cost more money in legal fees and create more office work for the district.

Bunde said he has not figured out the cost of the system, but said there would probably need to be at least one judge assigned to truancy cases.

Under Alaska's current rules on truancy, parents are required to see that children ages 7 to 16 are in school.

School districts have rules to deal with students who have one or more unexcused absences. Penalties vary, but usually involve contacting a truant student's parent or guardian, and depending on the frequency of offenses, can also involve detention or suspension.

In worst-case scenarios, parents can be fined for truant children under the state's rules.

The bill would add a new measure under which students themselves would be punished with stints in juvenile detention for repeatedly missing school.

"The parent really cannot physically control the child," Bunde said. "The schools cannot keep the child there if they want to run. So what this bill does is try to give the responsible parent another tool if you are dealing with these very, very rebellious children."

• Empire reporter Eric Morrison and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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