State educating counties on attendance law

By Greg Gelpi

The state is clamping down on truancy in efforts to increase attendance.

The state Department of Education launched a campaign to educate school systems about changes in state law, but the Clayton County school system is already incorporating many of the mandates, Jack Warren, administrative assistant for policy and legislation, said.

Lovejoy High School knows the importance of attendance. The school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act because it only tested 35 of its 40 students with disabilities, Principal Mike Duncan said.

"It's frustrating," Duncan said. "That's what it is."

He recalled congratulating his staff for improving in each category of the Georgia High School Graduation Test, but also announced that the school was placed on the Needs Improvement list. Lovejoy was placed on the list for failing to test 95 percent of its students in each subgroup.

"It's one of those things that makes things look like they're not," he said. "It's a very difficult standard for us at school."

Getting students out of bed and into school comes down to motivation, Duncan said. To motivate students, Lovejoy High is developing a career center. The center, which will begin in the spring, will help students in their freshman year identify a career goal and then work backward.

"The research in education is very clear," Duncan said. "In order to learn, you have to be there. Those who come to school sporadically are going to miss concepts. Students who show up every day do well."

Georgia House Bill 1190 requires that each county form an Attendance Protocol Committee. The collaboration of local agencies will generate innovative ideas, such as Duncan's career center, to counter truancy.

"What we get out of it is better services for students," Assistant Superintendent Luvenia Jackson said.

The collaboration avoids duplicating services and allows resources to be used more efficiently, she said.

The state also requires parents be notified when their children have five unexcused absences, but the Clayton County school system already does that, Jackson said. Letters are sent home, and school officials follow up with a meeting with parents if necessary.

"It all goes back to the parents' responsibility," Jackson said, adding that communication is the biggest obstacle.

She said the goal is to reach 100 percent attendance.

To educate the community and school system's about the state's tougher attendance law, which was passed by the state General Assembly in its last legislative session, the state Department of Education posted a Web site with information on attendance, attendance laws state school board attendance rules.

"The Georgia Department of Education recognizes the direct relationship between daily school attendance, student performance, graduation, and good work habits," said Kirk Englehardt, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "There are many reasons why a student may become truant, which is why Georgia's new attendance law requires school systems to pull together an Attendance Protocol Committee made up of local government leaders, community partners, parents, and students. The group will work to find local solutions to this unique community problem."

Clayton County already has collaborations between the school system, juvenile courts and other agencies to identify delinquent behavior at an early age.

"It is important to understand that under this State Board Rule, school systems are required to notify the parent or guardian of any student who has five unexcused absences," Englehardt said. "Contrary to what some may believe, this is simply the beginning of a process established to get truant students back on track n not to unfairly punish students or parents. The severity of student discipline and/or legal penalties for parents will be determined by the local Attendance Protocol Committee. The committee brings together the education and legal communities, as well as parents and students. Together they will develop consequences for chronic absence and truancy, while seeking solutions to local issues that may be contributing to the problem."

To access the state's attendance law and the state school board's ruling on attend, visit www.gadoe.org.