Senate bill changes 1st-graders' attendance requirements

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

A bill that makes some 6-year-olds comply with the same compulsory attendance requirements as older students passed the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill would require parents who enroll their children a year earlier than is now required by law to make sure the students attend school regularly.

Sen. Gene Therriault, a North Pole Republican, sponsored the measure after complaints from an elementary school principal in his district. He said the principal recounted one or two instances of parents who frequently took their children out of school.

"The parents were basically using the school as a convenient drop off," Therriault said, adding that the kids were attending school at about half the rate of their peers.

Alaska's compulsory school age is 7, but parents can enroll their children in school earlier. Therriault's bill would mean that parents who enroll their children in first grade at age 6 comply with the same attendance laws as apply to older students.

Therriault said a small number of children below the age of 7 do not attend school regularly because state law does not require attendance.

"This places a burden on teachers to keep that student up with the rest of the class and increases the potential for the student to be 'held back,' " Therriault said in a statement.

The bill was passed 14-4 but could come up again next week at the request of a Senate Democrat who voted against the measure.

Sen. Bettye Davis, an Anchorage Democrat, objected that the bill did not go far enough. Davis is a co-sponsor of the measure. She said she intended it to change the state's compulsory age for attendance.

But the bill was later amended in the Senate Finance Committee to remove any provision that made it mandatory.

Davis said several education organizations favor changing the age of compulsory attendance to 6, and she sponsored a bill last year to create mandatory kindergarten. That bill has not received a hearing.

She said more than 90 percent of students in the state already attend kindergarten by age 5.

"This bill does not help the education community to do anything," Davis said.

If approved by the Legislature, the bill would take effect July 1.

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