Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Trouble with Truancy - Part 2

As my letter in Part 1 of this series illustrated, it's fairly easy to have a truant child.  Missing two weeks due to illness is quite easy to have happen, and the requirement that many districts have that a doctor's note is the only way to excuse the absence means a classist system of who can and will have absences excused and who will end up with a truant child.  All other things being equal, two children out for two weeks with the same two colds can end up with very different fates, not because of the nature of the child, or the diligence of the parent, but simply for economic reasons.

That income levels and truancy are related is no surprise.  A recent MLive article reported:
"Some districts, including many affluent suburban ones, reported little or no truancy. The Forest Hills schools outside Grand Rapids reported five truant students among 10,147 enrolled, and Bloomfield Hills in suburban Detroit just 32 out of 12,306. But Kentwood, another metropolitan Grand Rapids district, had 590 truant cases, representing 6.8 percent of its students, according to the data."

So what?  What does it matter if a child is labeled truant?  Well, it turns out it matters a great deal.   In Michigan, a truant child can mean a fine to a parent, and even jail time

Well, apparently that wasn't enough for our Michigan Republicans who control our legislature.  This week, Governor Snyder signed a new bill into law that cuts welfare to families if a child is truant. 

So imagine, if you will, a low-income family with three children.  The youngest child gets sick for a week, and the parent keeps her home.  It's a mild cold, so there's no need to see a doctor, but the child misses a week of school.  Now they have 5 of the 10 days towards being considered truant.  The child gets sick again.  The family can't afford to see a doctor, but keeps the child home again.  Now the child is truant.  The parents are then fined for having a truant child.  And, now, our government takes food away from the whole family. 

Governor Snyder said, "Much like the Pathways to Potential program, this legislation brings together parents, schools and the state to determine obstacles that keep students from being in school and how to overcome them."  When my child was sick a couple of years ago with a mild cold and I wrote the letter to my school board in frustration, it did bring parents and school together.  My child's principal had told me there was no way she could excuse the absence without a doctor's note.  The school board seemed to hear the situation, and agree that the policy was flawed.  Two years later, the policy is still (or back) in place.  Children are still being considered truant because of illness and income.  Now Governor Snyder thinks this will bring together parents, schools, and state?  Yes, it will -- unnecessarily.  It's completely unnecessary to bring the state into this level of involvement between schools and parents.  The fact that it's penalizing lower income people who are already struggling with the truancy laws is unconscionable. 

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