Schools get tough on truancy

GLADSTONE – The Gladstone School Board expressed support Monday night for the way Gladstone and other districts in the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD have put their heads together with other community agencies to tackle the issue of truancy.

“I’ve heard from several staff members over the last couple of years that it’s tough to get scores up when you don’t have kids attending, and we have a problem with attendance with some individual students, and that reflects poorly upon the staff members’ ability to educate,” said School Board President Steve O’Driscoll.

Representatives from all schools in the ISD are partnering with representatives from Pathways Community Mental Health and the 94th District Court to form the Delta County School Justice Partnership. The partnership is working toward the creation of consistent truancy policy that can be implemented at schools throughout the ISD and pushing for the hire of a truancy officer who can act as a mediator between schools and the court system.

“Historically this position existed,” said Superintendent Jay Kulbertis. “There was a time when ISDs employed truancy officers. Then there was grant money that local public safety agencies were able to access so we had school liaisons officers. But as grant money has dwindled and county money for the courts has also dried up they’ve been looking at ways to lighten their caseload, and truancy issues were not rising to the level of importance for their level (like it was for ours). I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

So far the Delta County School Justice Partnership has met twice and has broken into committees to work out different parts of the proposal, which will be presented at the Superintendents’ Round Table in August.

“Hopefully we have the support of all the superintendents to, if you will, squeeze the ISD into giving us some help in that area,” said Gladstone Junior High Principal Dave Ballard.

While the details of the proposal are still under discussion, currently there are hopes to have the truancy officer visit with each school once a week. Students with truancy issues will be reported to the officer, who will both visit homes and work with the court system.

“The issues we’re seeing now at the elementary level aren’t caused by the students,” said Kulbertis. He noted it is much easier for staff to deal with high school students who skipped class by choice than to deal with students who were truant due to the actions of their guardians.

The board also noted truancy officers may become aware of other issues in the homes of truant students.

“I imagine a (truancy) officer going into the home will uncover all kinds of social issues. If you can intervene early maybe you can prevent an unfortunate situation,” said Board Trustee Paul Capodilupo.

Because many students facing truancy issues simply transfer to another school to avoid penalties, the Delta County School Justice Partnership hopes its policy can be applied to all schools – and follow students if they move within the ISD.

“The truancy record would follow them, and if they’re in the ISD they’d start off with the same step,” said Ballard.

While other ISDs are paying for truancy officers with grant funding, the partnership believes that it is best for the ISD to hire and pay the officer like a regular employee rather than relying on grant funding that could dry up in the future.

“We feel strongly that is the responsibility of the ISD to provide that service,” said Ballard.

In other business it was reported the district will be hiring a third grade teacher. In June the district did not budget to fill the position, hoping that the adopted budget would allow the district to hire a replacement using repurposed federal money.

“As it turns out by utilizing class size reduction at the kindergarten level that does allow us to fill that third grade position that our community was interested in. So we are moving forward to fill that position,” said Kulbertis.