PAISD aims to keep kids in class
Port Aransas ISD trustees are getting the jump on school absenteeism this year. At their Thursday, Oct. 13 meeting, they heard that the district’s attendance figures are up over the same time last year, but they also heard that schools are making a greater, and earlier, effort to get students to attend schools this year.
Superintendent Dr. Sharon Doughty’s figures show that on the “snapshot” date of Wednesday, Oct. 5, the district attendance figure was 97.38 percent, just under 1 percent higher than at the same time last year.
Since state funding for schools is based on enrollment and attendance, absent students have an impact not only in the classroom but in the district’s finances.
Doughty told the board in May that the district would ramp up its efforts to make parents aware of the need to put kids in school and keep them there.
“State law, what is called the compulsory education law, requires children from six to 18 to be in school,” she said on Thursday. When students reach 18, there are some changes – they’re considered old enough to make their decisions.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that once you enroll a child in kindergarten or pre-K, they fall under the compulsory education law, even though they aren’t yet six year old.”
Last year, numbers Doughty showed the board indicated the district filed 37 cases of truancy against parents and students. Of those, 19 were for students at H.G. Olsen Elementary School, five were at Brundrett Middle School and 13 were for Port Aransas High School students.
She said Nueces County Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Duncan Neblett, who hears truancy cases, has been supportive of the effort to get students into the classroom.
Neblett, who attended the meeting, advised the board to file charges against parents, since that’s where they’ll do the most good.
“The judge can get an idea from talking with the parent of why the child isn’t in school,” he said. “If you get the parent up there (in court), you can get a picture of what’s happening at home.”
He said that gives a better idea of the punishment or sanction that would be appropriate.
He also pointed out that when a judge orders the parent to pay court costs, those payments go directly to the campus.
When parents are fined, half of the fine goes to the school, he said.
“I am amazed at how hard your administrators work at getting parents to understand the importance of getting kids in school,” Neblett told the board.
The Texas Education Code says a parent who is guilty of not keeping a child in school can be punished by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to a year in jail.
However, the schools will accept three notes from parents as well as medical excuses signed by doctors as reasons to be absent. Other specific exceptions noted in the law include absences to pursue citizenship, religious holy days and scheduled court appearances.
Neblett is more likely to use the fine than the jail term, and more likely to use community service and supervision to enforce attendance, figures from last year show.
Doughty said the district does several things to ensure parents are aware of the compulsory attendance law, including:
• A mandatory notification letter explaining the law, which goes to parents at the beginning of each school year
• Sections in the student handbook that explain the law (parents must sign a statement each year that they’ve read the handbook)
• Explanations of the law to students at meetings in August
• Attendance awards and incentives.
Once a student misses three whole or parts of days of school in a four-week period or 10 days in a semester, other measures kick in:
• Teacher, counselor and principal conferences with the student
• Teacher and office staff contacts with parents, including a visit to the home
If all else fails, Neblett said, he’ll order a deputy constable to the home to “get the kid out of bed and get him to school, if necessary.”
Neblett praised the district for increasing efforts to get students in schools over the past few years.
“Two or three years ago, I was so frustrated, because I’d see kids not in school, and nothing was happening, “ he said. “That’s not the case any more.”
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