APSB says some principals too lax on truancy policy

Avoyelles Parish School Board members said some high school principals are apparently not following the strict anti-truancy program the board implemented in January.

Jennifer Dismer, acting Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance, gave an update on the program at the Education Committee’s June 19 meeting.

There were 387 students who had more than 13 days of unexcused absences during the 2017-18 school year, Dismer said.

She said 114 parents from across the parish were charged with truancy. In addition, four students from Marksville High were also charged with truancy because they are not considered juveniles.
The board had set up truancy meetings at each school.Dismer said 29 parents who attended the truancy meetings were later charged with truancy for non-compliance while 101 parents who attended the meetings were not charged.

“I, personally, didn’t see a big difference, but I see the program can be successful,” Dismer told board members. “We just started in mid-year, but if we had started at the first of the year, I feel more of the students and parents would be in compliance and the numbers would be lower.”

Dismer gave four suggestions to improve the truancy programs.

She suggested more meetings be held at the schools to discuss truancy with parents. Revoking a student’s driver’s license after 13 unexcused absences is also a way to reduce truancy, she said. Third would be to consider future consequences for students who violate the program. The fourth suggestion was to continue the attendance recovery program, which requires students to make up hour-for-hour all time they miss after accumulating 13 or more unexcused absences.

Dismer said some high school students may go to class for three blocks of the school day but miss the fourth block more than 13 times. The student must make up the days missed during the fourth block to get under the 13-day cutoff. If they miss the entire day, the student must make up the entire day.

Board members Chris LaCour and James Gauthier were upset that only one high school, Avoyelles High, turned students in to have their driver’s licenses revoked.

“We need to get all principals on board with the guidelines,” LaCour said. “We cannot let up on this. There should be no excuses about our policy when school starts on Aug. 9.”

Gauthier told Superintendent Blaine Dauzat he is “at the top” and needs to make sure principals follow the guidelines.

Gauthier said District Judge Billy Bennett, who addressed the board in January about the truancy problem, “would be shocked to see the principals not helping. The tail is wagging the dog.”

Board member Lizzy Ned said the board needs to continue to take action to reduce truancy. She said if it takes a board resolution to instruct school officials to follow the policy, the board should pass a resolution.

“Our attendance program is far too lax,” board member Shelia Blackman-Dupas added.

“How do you expect school test scores to improve when students are walking the streets and laughing when they should be in school,” Ned added.

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