EAST LIVERPOOL - An age-old problem among school students dominated discussion at this week's meeting of the board of education, which tackled the issue of absenteeism.
Board member Richard Wolf broached the subject to LaCroft Elementary Principal Linda Lindsey as she reported her students' activities in recent weeks.
Noting her positive comments, Wolf told Lindsey he'd seen a news account about three juveniles cited into Juvenile Court for excess absences, saying absenteeism is an "indicator of greater problems."
Wolf suggested there should be some intervention and help for families having difficulty getting their children to school.
"Getting parents to commit is very difficult, but it's worth a try," Lindsey said of a possible intervention program, noting that LaCroft always meets indicators for absenteeism on the state report card and that there is an average of about four or five students with high absences.
Asked by board member Larry Walton if there are any common denominators among students who miss school, Lindsey said their parents "have other problems in their lives, and they just don't put education as a priority. We come in as a second thought in their lives. Our parents have it tough. We have a lot of single parents."
She said teachers "keep preaching be involved, Potter pride to our children, but at the elementary level (absenteeism) is not the child's fault; it's the parents' fault."
North Elementary Principal Paula Ekis said she had asked the Juvenile Court judge about having parenting classes at the school, noting parents will not come if not mandated by the court, but said, "The court system wasn't really ready for that yet."
Wolf argued that, "We deal with it as a discipline problem. Handing it off to the court is not the solution."
Ekis suggested a school resource officer for the entire district might be the answer.
Superintendent James Herring said times have changed from when he, as an assistant principal at another district, went to the home with a police officer to round up absent students.
He said the issue only involves a small number of students but "they're really abusing the situation." Herring said, too, at the elementary level it is not the child's fault but the parents, who don't wake them up for school. Sometimes, a working parent expects a middle school student to get up and go to school, but the child doesn't, Herring said.
Herring related seeing two boys near May Street riding their bikes and asked why they weren't in school. They had been suspended one day for fighting, and Herring told the board, "In my day, if I'd have been suspended, I'd be lucky to be able to walk, let alone ride my bike."
Instead of suspension, perhaps the district needs to look at an alternative type of discipline, Herring told the board.
Also discussed was the possible need for truant officers as the district had in the past.
The administration recently did change absenteeism policy, limiting the number of days a student may be excused with just a note from a parent. After 10 days, a doctor's or court's excuse must be provided or the days become unexcused. After five unexcused days, a court mediator speaks with the parents.
"We want the kids in school," Herring said after the meeting.