WVLEG: Lawmakers Discuss Updated Truancy Laws
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By STEVEN ALLEN ADAMS
Lawmakers are taking a look at strengthening the state’s truancy laws.
The Senate Judiciary Committee took a look at S.B. 477, which would require school systems ask the state Department of Health and Human Resources investigate households of students with five or more unexcused absences. The law would apply to students in kindergarten and grades one through eight.
The bill also requires prosecuting attorneys to ask the state Child Protective Services to attend truancy hearings. If the bill is passed each county would get their own Truancy and Dropout Prevention team. These teams would develop plans to increase attendance, create an automated attendance phone call to contact parents when a child is absent for one of more periods, send out letter to parents when a child is absent three days, schedule meeting between administration and parents, and other actions.
“I really believe that this is maybe, if not the most significant issue facing us in schools, one of the most significant issues,” said Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Palumbo is a co-sponsor of the bill along with Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
The bill was first introduced on Feb. 7. The Senate Education Committee amended the bill Feb. 23, and the bill was read a first time the same day and sent on to the Senate Judiciary Committee. An education subcommittee will take a look at the bill before the full committee approves the bill.
Some lawmakers raised concerns about putting more work on the school system and Child Protective Services.
“It is a problem we need to address, and the sooner the better,” said Sen. Karen Facemeyer, R-Jackson. “But when we put the burden of this on the backs of…the superintendents, the principals, and the child case workers, they all need to be involved.”
Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, said he would propose an amendment to S.B. 447. Under Jenkin’s amendment, once a student has five unexcused absences the school superintendent would contact the parents to notify them, then give them a certain amount of days to respond. If the parents don’t respond, then the case would go to CPS.
“I would insert a middle step where the parents are put on notice they they’re getting ready to be turned over to CPS,” Jenkins said. “Rather than having a CPS person come knocking on the door and find out they were on vacation, have the person get a letter.”
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