SIDNEY — Recent changes to Ohio’s truancy laws prompted a gathering of Shelby County school administrators, superintendents, and Shelby County Juvenile Court officials to collaborate on the required programming. Representatives from Shelby County’s eight public school districts attended the meeting, as well as Juvenile Court Judge Jeff Beigel, Juvenile Court Prosecutor Heath Hegemann and Juvenile Court probation representatives McKenzie Lotz and Lorie Hurey.
House Bill 410, enacted in April 2017 with most requirements implemented with the 2017/2018 school year, introduced sweeping change to how truancy is addressed in Ohio. Historically, truancy was handled by Juvenile Court systems. Many of the new requirements are based on the schools and other community entities can work collectively to address factors driving poor school attendance and offer solutions and assistance to families before moving to court involvement.
Amy Simindinger, Juvenile Court liaison for Shelby County, facilitated the meeting. She stated collaboration between the Juvenile Court system and schools in Shelby County has always been a community strength and new requirements to address attendance has created the opportunity for new programming and supports.
“There can be multiple factors driving poor attendance,” said Simindinger. “The law calls for schools to work with families, identify issues and barriers, and implement supports to improve school attendance. Families will be educated on the importance of school attendance, the significant impact even (seemingly) small absences have on academic progress and the potential consequences and requirements if families are not amenable to working with attendance teams.
“One of the biggest changes students and families need to be aware of is that in the past, truancy charges could only be filed on full day unexcused absences. The new law requires truancy be addressed based on unexcused hours. Schools can and are tracking unexcused minutes toward those hours. Students who regularly arrive late to school or leave early with no excused reason will be working their way quickly toward attendance intervention and possible court involvement,” she said.
Schools are called upon to mobilize attendance teams when students meet the new definition of habitual truancy – absent 30 or more consecutive hours without a legitimate excuse, 42 or more hours in one (calendar) month without a legitimate excuse, and 72 or more hours in one school year without a legitimate excuse.
Students who meet the threshold for these attendance markers will be required to work with a school based attendance intervention team for a period of 60 days. Parents or guardians are also required to participate. This could include regular meetings at the school, involvement with community agencies and routine monitoring of attendance. Should a student not make progress during those 60 days, the student and family can then be referred to Shelby County Juvenile Court for a truancy diversion program.
The truancy diversion program extends intervention for another 90 days, with families having an increased expectation for meetings both at the court and at school, participation in community programming and regular attendance monitoring. If both the school and court intervention are unsuccessful, formal charges can be filed in Juvenile Court.
“Students and families can be required to participate in five months (or longer) of intervention between the school attendance teams and court diversion,” Simindinger reported. “The new law requires significantly more time and investment from families in correcting the problem.”
The law also addresses excessive absenteeism. This is defined as a student who misses 38 or more hours in one school month or 65 hours or more in one school year, regardless if the absences are excused or not. The intent is to emphasize to students and families how important school attendance is and schools are required to notify families if their child meets the criteria for excessive absenteeism. Schools can also require a meeting with the student and family to discuss the concerns.
Beigel gave a special thanks to Simindinger, Hegemann and the Juvenile Probation Team for a thorough presentation. He noted that “it’s important for everyone to understand the importance of these changes so that we can continue to effectively address the needs of juveniles and their families, as well as support and assist our local school districts through the attendance intervention process.”
“I would encourage families who are struggling with school attendance to reach out to their building guidance counselor or administrator proactively and request help,” Simindinger advised. “Regardless if you are the parent of an elementary student who has transportation issues preventing regular and timely attendance or you are the parent of a high school student who is refusing to go to school, there are many community resources and supports available to address problems early in the process.”
Families who have questions about the new truancy law and requirements can contact their school principal or Amy Simindinger at the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center 937-498-1354.