Parents who let their children ditch school this year may end up in court.
The Payson School District has tightened its elementary and middle school truancy policies and school officials plan to hold parents and students responsible -- in court if necessary -- for unexcused absences.
Children between the ages of 6 and 16 are required by law to attend school. Parents are subject to fines and other penalties for allowing their children to habitually miss class, and students are subject to juvenile court sanctions for consistently skipping school. Until now, however, local school administrators were reluctant to take parents to court.
That will change this year.
Rim Country Middle School Principal Frank Larby announced this week that elementary and middle school administrators have drafted a new six-step truancy policy that requires principals to cite parents after their children have accumulated 15 unexcused absences.
"With the state-mandated AIMS test and high school graduation riding in the balance, our schools must take action to ensure solid school attendance," he said. "Good attendance at school will translate into better student achievement.
"If we can develop a positive pattern of school attendance in the early grades, then there is a much higher chance that children will consistently attend school at the middle school level and at the high school."
Last year, more than 50 seventh-grade students at the middle school missed 15 days or more of school, he said. The high school implemented a tough truancy policy about three years ago, and administrators there have seen the school's graduation rates and test scores go up, he said.
This policy will not affect children who become ill or have other valid reasons for missing class, Larby said. It is aimed at students who miss weeks of school with little or no school contact from their parents.
In developing the district's "Positive Response Plan" for truancy, school administrators met with representatives of the Gila County Attorney's Office, Gila County Superior Court, Payson Justice Court, Gila County Juvenile Probation and the Payson Police Department.
"The police and the schools are going to look at truancy as a 'gateway' crime," Larby said. "If they're not going to school, what are they doing? Missing school gives them the opportunity to fall in with the wrong crowd, which could lead them down the wrong path."
If parents allow their children to miss 15 unexcused days of class, school administrators will review the family's case history with the Payson Police Department, Larby said, and they may be cited to Payson Justice Court to explain why their children are not attending school.
Payson Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel will then have the option to fine or sanction the parents, he said. In addition, students who refuse to come to school may be cited directly to the juvenile court.
Citations will only be issued after a child has missed 15 days of school and his or her parents have failed to provide a satisfactory reason for the absences, Larby said.
"Ultimately, parents who do not fulfill their legal responsibility to send their children to school could find themselves receiving a citation from the school," Larby said. "The parents are responsible, but we want to work with them."
PUSD's Truancy Policy
- After five days of accumulated absence, school officials will contact the parents of the child by phone or mail.
• After eight days of accumulated absence, school officials will hold a conference with the parents of the child. During the meeting, parents will be notified that Mark McCan of juvenile probation will be contacted, and that he will contact the parents regarding parent-mentoring services that are offered through his office.
• After 10 days of accumulated absence, school officials will again contact the parents of the child by phone or by mail.
• After 12 days of accumulated absence, school officials will send a registered letter to the parents indicating that any future absences must be excused by a physician, and that the school will not accept absences for any other reason. A copy of the letter will be forwarded to the school resource officer and to the county prosecutor's office.
• If three more absences -- a total of 15 -- are reported without a medical excuse, the school administrator will complete a citation that places the parents in violation of ARS 15-802. The school resource officer will be consulted to review the student's attendance record, parent notifications and parental responses.
• The school will forward citations to the appropriate office in the court system for prosecution. In the case of elementary students, the parents will be cited to justice court. In the case of middle school students, the school administration, in consultation with the school resource officer, will make a determination to cite the parents to justice court or the student into juvenile court.