Ohio bill tackles truancy

Ohio lawmakers have passed a bill that treats truancy as a problem for schools and parents to solve, rather than a crime to be dealt with by the courts. That is probably a good thing, so long as students — and, let us face it, some older students are no longer “children” — do not get the idea that skipping school will be treated with a slap on the wrist, rather than real consequences.

Among the points in the bill is moving away from the designation of “chronic” truancy, once a student misses a certain amount of school time. The process begins at what is deemed the “habitual” level — missing 30 hours in a row, 42 hours in a month or 72 hours in a year — when the school district must form an intervention team of at least two school staff members and the parents or guardians.

That pairing of trained professionals with a students’ parents or guardians will be essential, though it will, of course, mean more work for the district staff. It is only after two months in which the student has made no progress in getting to school that a complaint can be filed with juvenile court to start treating the matter as a delinquency issue.

Now, rather than suspending students for skipping school (a rule which made very little sense to begin with), districts must keep youngsters in school and help find a solution to the problem.

As Damon Asbury, director of legislative services to the Ohio School Boards Association, commented, “We think it’s important that kids be in school and if there are reasons they aren’t, the community and parents and school need to take steps to get them there.”

Bravo to lawmakers trying to keep kids from becoming part of the court system when there may be a more productive way to solve the problem.

But, now, good luck to the school systems that must find a way to put intervention teams in place to best help those students.

Let us hope the plan works better than current anti-truancy methods. At the first indication some students and their parents may be taking advantage of the new system, legislators should consider restoring more ability to punish adults who are not doing their part in getting kids to school.

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