Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parent Accountability

School attendance reports for the first half of the 2009-2010 school year for East Baton Rouge Parish public schools reveal that approximately 9,366 students out of a total enrollment of 45,000 missed at least 6 school days during the first semester. Yet that was an improvement of 12% over the previous school year when over 10,000 students missed over 5 days the first semester. These statistics indicate that on average approximately 22 percent of all students in the East Baton Rouge school system are almost certainly headed for failure solely because of excessive absences! Superintendent Dilworth with the help of the EBR District Attorney’s office is determined to change the mind set of parents and students who ignore the mandatory attendance law. (Click on this link to see The Advocate article on Truancy) That’s why parents of such students are being notified of the requirements of the law and are invited to attend special workshops on student attendance.

Since the “Early Warning Meetings” were instituted in the first semester of this school year, student absences for the month of January 2010 have been reduced by 40% compared to last year according to EBR spokesperson Chris Trahan. This improved result may be due to the wording of the letter sent to parents of habitually absent students notifying parents of the very real fines and community service or jail time for parents who fail to comply with the mandatory attendance law. Many parents seemed to be unaware of their child’s absences or of the serious consequences for both students and parents of students who are deemed to be habitually absent or tardy.

One of the most successful cooperative programs between the local District Attorney’s office and public school systems has been in operation for approximately 10 years in Bossier and Webster Parishes. Project administrator Richey Jackson of the District attorney’s office believes that such a program is especially effective in urban school systems. The program he administers also funds coordinators who enforce the community service requirements of the law for both students and parents. This program works because it has enforcement teeth according to Mr Jackson who has long been a champion of enforcing accountability for parents.

Recently, District and Family Court judges in the Bossier/Webster area have been imposing increasingly stiff penalties on parents and juveniles who violate the compulsory attendance law.

The only major flaw in the system according to Jackson, is that some parents are taking advantage of the Home Study laws to avoid the requirements of the mandatory school attendance laws. He believes that if Louisiana continues to allow home schooling, the program must be strictly monitored to insure that students are actually receiving effective instruction.

This writer believes it is high time Accountability for school attendance was strictly enforced in all public school systems. It is impractical and unfair to hold school administrators and teachers solely responsible for educating students over whom they have no control. No teacher can teach an empty desk!

BESE loses an Independent Voice: Last week, Tammie McDaniel, one of the Governor’s appointees to BESE resigned and was replaced by a person who works as a private school administrator. McDaniel had been under intense pressure for over a year because of her questioning of the policies of State Superintendent Pastorek. She had become increasingly critical of State and Federal mandates and what she saw as state and Federal encroachment on local authority for operation of public schools. This is a serious loss for public education.