Student absences are serious business

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, August 3, 2017

Today is the first day of class for students in city, county and private schools and while most students are making the best of the situation, some who should be in class probably aren’t.

And those unexcused absences that rack up can cause parents to face fines and possible jail time.

“Attendance officers follow state guidelines to enforce the compulsory school law,” said Brookhaven Schools Superintendent Ray Carlock. “Parents can be summoned to appear before youth court for student absences.”

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The state says parents who allow their children to miss more than 12 days without an excuse are breaking the law.

Under the Mississippi Compulsory School Attendance Law, parents and guardians are required to enroll their children in a public or private school. This law applies to children who are between the ages of 6 and 17 by Sept. 1.

Children who will be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 and have enrolled in a full-day public kindergarten will also be under the Compulsory School Attendance Law, he said.

Parents who homeschool their children are required to complete a certificate of enrollment card every year.

Attending school is important, Carlock said.

“School time schedules are designed to provide enough instructional time to grow an average student one grade level,” he said. “Students who miss instructional time get behind in reading and math and over time they perform lower and lower below grade level. There is no magic trick to catch up. It takes the same amount of time that was missed to catch up.”

Carlock said student absences lower the school’s average daily attendance, which costs the school valuable funding. Also, students who are below grade level usually are not proficient which lowers accountability scores.

“Below grade level students can struggle with reading and become at risk for dropping out,” he said. “Drop outs lower the graduation rate which lowers accountability scores.”

Attending school regularly can mean the difference between a student’s failure or success, he said.

“The bottom line is that student attendance is a key factor in whether a student graduates and becomes a productive citizen through a technical career or college graduate,”  he said. “Students who learn the importance of punctuality and attendance in school make better employees as a general rule.”

On top of that, missing school is serious business.

Any parent or guardian who fails to comply with the compulsory school attendance laws may be found guilty of contributing to the neglect of a child and my face criminal charges, said Attendance Officer Keith Robinson.

Robinson said schools are required to turn in the names of kids who have five unexcused absences. That prompts a phone call from Robinson, then a follow-up letter. More absences warrant a home visit.

After a child has accumulated a dozen unexcused absences, the attendance officers are required by law to file a petition. That means court for the parents.