Editorial: Missing school


Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 11:22 p.m.

When K-12 students miss classes, everyone loses.

The students fall behind on their studies and can get into trouble if left to their own devices at home. Falling standardized test scores have consequences for their schools and teachers.

Alachua County School Board Chairwoman Eileen Roy and other local officials deserve credit for considering two major issues costing students time in the classroom: chronic tardiness and out-of-school suspensions.

The first is an issue that requires both students and their parents to take more responsibility. The second requires the school district to try different approaches in addressing disruptive students.

The district's School Attendance Review Board is already able to connect parents with services and hold them accountable when their children rack up multiple unexcused absences. The board includes representatives from the state attorney's office and local law enforcement.

In one case that made news a few years ago, a Gainesville woman was jailed for contributing to the delinquency of a minor because her ninth-grade daughter had 59 unexcused absences.

Students who are chronically late or repeatedly picked up from school early face the same problems as those who are truant. The former principal of Littlewood Elementary School told The Sun that she had a few students last year who were late as many as 60 of the 180 days in the school year.

Yet the review board is constrained from addressing tardiness. The district might be legally prevented from simply equating a certain number of tardies with an absence, but it should explore other options, such as considering tardiness as a factor in truancy cases.

Out-of-school suspensions are even more complicated. More than 1,300 middle and high school students received out-of-school suspensions last year, spending an average of three days out of school.

It makes little sense to keep students out of school who need to be there most. Some students end up getting into trouble with the law, starting a cycle that can result in them dropping out.

In-school suspensions make more sense but can be a waste of time if students sleep or watch television. One promising alternative is restorative justice

The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding is among the practitioners of the method.

It aims to empower students to atone for their bad behavior and restore their self-esteem, in an effort to prevent problems from recurring.

The school board and local law enforcement are smart to consider new ways to deal with these long-standing issues. It's also up to parents and students to take responsibility for their actions and advantage of the opportunities presented by innovative programs.

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