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New school rules could impact parents when it comes to student absences

September 01, 2010
BERLIN — New laws could mean trouble for parents of students who habitually miss school, and school officials are trying to get the word out about the changes.

State law reduced the number of unexcused absences from 20 half days to 10 this year, or five full school days. Any more and the student is considered "truant," which can affect have serious implications for students and, in some cases, parents.

The Berlin School District has adopted new rules to try to address problems early, but officials are still expecting to see a jump in truancy cases.

"We were a little bid ahead of the game, and this is to our advantage," Superintendent Corinne Cascadden said.

The new rules say the school district will send parents of a student who misses six half days, or three full days, and a letter warning they are approaching the limit of 10 half days. School officials will also schedule a conference with the parents to discuss the seriousness of truancy, which will include representatives from the school, the Berlin Police Department, and the Division of Juvenile Justice Services from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

After 10 half days, or five full days, the district will send another letter and consider whether charges should be filed.

Truancy refers to unexcused absences, not instances where a student misses class because of illness.

Parents can avoid unexcused absences by calling the school in the morning if their child is going to miss school and by sending a note in with them the following day, Superintendent Cascadden said.

In those cases where the absence isn't excused, in some cases it could be the parents who experience the ramifications, officials said.

Under the new regulations parents of students in fifth grade and below will be held accountable for their child's attendance, but even parents of high school students can be taken to court. School officials, the juvenile officer and DJJS will have the option in those instances.

"It's the parents' responsibility to get the kids to school," said Berlin detective and juvenile officer Keith Enman.

Superintendent Cascadden said she hoped this would get the word out about the importance of getting students to school. "This is serious," she said.

Truancy is a key indicator of success later in life, said Jim Panzer, a juvenile probation and parole officer for DJJS, and it is important the district is out in front of the problem.

Officials said they will likely see an initial jump in the number of truancy cases, as families adjust to the reduced number of allowable absences. Over the long term, however, they hope their aggressive approach to truancy will reduce the number of cases overall.

The important thing for the district and DJJS is to catch cases early and get kids on the right track, said Dick Fowler, a supervisor at DJJS.

"We're trying to assist and help," he said, to break the cycle of truancy, to engage families and to get them the resources they need.

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