Officials: School truancy not a problem
A state truancy law meant local school officials had to contact the Dawson County attorney last semester.
The students, who were new mothers, had missed more than 20 days of school.
School officials and teachers worked with the students to insure they caught up classwork, according to Gothenburg High School principal Randy Evans.
“It needs to be common sense,” Evans said about the law that some parents, across the state, think is too intrusive.
At the crux of parental complaints is that schools must report each student who reaches 20 absences, both excused and unexcused, to the county attorney who decides what to do.
Two bills have been introduced in the Nebraska Legislature that temper the law.
The bottom line, said Evans and bill sponsors, is that staying in school is the best chance to receive a proper education.
At the junior and senior high school, attendance is taken every period to prevent truancy. It’s taken each morning and afternoon at Dudley Elementary.
Evans said administrators are aware of who is missing excessive days of school through a list they receive.
School secretaries, who take notes from parents to excuse children from school, also track excessive absences.
Once absences add up, parents are notified that their child is in danger of missing 20 days.
Guidance counselors are also involved in a team approach that includes the student, family, administrators and often teachers.
Counselor Pam Glodowski said she also meets one-on-one with students to talk about academic, educational and other goals.
“My role is to help identify the problem or problems and help find solutions to assure the student’s success,” she said.
Glodowski said she thinks the truancy policy works well because teachers, staff and administrators try to identify and communicate with students and their families from an early point.
“And converse on a continuing basis,” she said.
For the most part, Evans said kids want to be in school in Gothenburg and parents value the educational process so there’s not much abuse of the policy.
Excessive absenteeism is more a problem at larger schools in Lincoln and Omaha where some have full-time truant officers, he said.
Truancy laws are needed, Evans said, because some families abuse the system.
“If we allow students to miss, it’s a no-win situation because to be successful, attendance is a priority,” he said.
Once students get into the legal system, he said there’s less chance of handling concerns locally and relationships are lost.
He added that connections teachers have with students help keep them in school.
Dudley Elementary principals Jim Widdifield and Teresa Messersmith said they don’t have a problem with truancy.
“Twenty days is hard to get to,” Widdifield said. “When you have a large number of unexcused absences, we look at it well before 20 days and parents are notified.”
All the principals said they have no problem with the law.
Widdifield noted that 20 days is about 11% of time in school.
“If you miss much more than that, it could have an impact on the child’s education,” he said.