School District To Work With Police On Attendance Problem

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Truancy is an issue in the Payson Unified School District, so district officials and police are going after the parents to try and curtail the problem.

The issue is two-fold, one -- excessively truant students do not get the education they need, and two -- the district budget suffers.

At the last school board meeting, Superintendent Casey O'Brien said that the district and Payson Police would partner to go after parents of chronically truant students in a district-wide effort to emphasize the importance of daily attendance.

In a statement from Payson Police received by the Roundup Wednesday, Police Chief Engler said:

"The Payson Police Department recently became aware of a situation that has had a considerable impact on some students within our educational community. This situation involves truancy issues wherein the problem is the parents not ensuring that the child attends school."

Under Arizona law, parents of children between the ages of 6 and 16 could face misdemeanor charges if the child does not attend a public, private or charter school daily, unless there is an excused absence or the child is home schooled.

Engler said that the department recognizes the developing problem with truancy in the district and police will work with school officials to identify "problem parents" and issue citations to those contributing to their children's truancy.

"What will probably happen is officers will contact parents on a case-by-case basis to meet and discuss an attendance problem to determine if it is a case of a child who is not attending without parents being aware of it, or if it is a case where parents are knowingly not enforcing their child's attendance," said Engler.

Consequences can range anywhere from a simple discussion with parents and the child about the problem, to disciplinary action for the parents or child.

After five unexcused absences in a school year, districts in Arizona can take action if they consider it appropriate and necessary.

"We have a policy in the district that we use to determine what is or is not an unexcused absence," said a school official.

He said that the goal of the district and police is not to just issue citations and call parents into a hearing or court.

"Even if we don't issue any citations, the goal here is to increase school attendance," he said.

Engler said that the pilot program will focus on Rim Country Middle School, but that it will ultimately focus primarily on attendance at the elementary, middle school and freshman high school levels.

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