Schools doing well with attendance rates
All Morgan County elementary schools have attendance rates of 97% to 98% or higher, said Attendance Director George Ward. Greenwood Elementary has one of the highest elementary school attendance rates in the state, he noted.
The county exceeded the state attendance rate in three of the past five years. The attendance standard required by the state is 90%.
Warm Springs Middle School attendance rate is more than 96%, which is great for a middle school, Ward noted.
Berkeley Springs High School’s attendance rate has been above 95% except in 2009-2010. It was 98% in the 2010-11 school year.
Paw Paw High School’s attendance has been above 95% except in 2007-2008. Attendance rates above 93% and 94% are really good for high schools, Ward said.
Ward said County Prosecuting Attorney Debra McLaughlin and the State Supreme Court are big advocates of school attendance. Many counties have involved the court system in attendance interventions and efforts with families, he said.
If students have more than five unexplained absences, they set up a multi-disciplinary team meeting with the student and their parents. The team involves Ward, the prosecuting attorney, parents, the student, the probation officer, the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and anyone that can help solve the attendance problem, Ward said. The parents and child are required to come to the meeting.
Sometimes the solution is as simple as buying an alarm clock, he said. At times custody issues and running away are involved that require other county resources.
Could mean fines, jail
The next step if the attendance problem isn’t resolved is going to court, Ward said. Ward had spent three hours in Circuit Court the previous day regarding attendance cases.
Fines could occur and parents could be jailed or have to attend school with their child – it’s all up to a judge. Morgan County Courts all really value education, he said.
“We look for solutions so kids can go back to school,” Ward said.
There are a greater number of high school absences, Ward said. High school students may have established independence and be living on their own or staying with others. Sometimes the Prosecutor’s office will file a juvenile petition if incorrigibility is the issue.
The compulsory age of attendance was raised to 17. For current freshmen and sophomores, the age is 17. For current juniors and seniors, it’s still age 16, he said.
Can lose driver’s license
If high school students are absent more than 10 consecutive days unexcused or have a total of 15 unexcused school absences, they lose their driver’s license, Ward said.
State law now says that students have to pass five classes at the end of the school year, three of them core graduation requirements, or they lose their driver’s license.
Last year they revoked around 15 student driver’s licenses, Ward said. For attendance and behavior issues, students lose their license for a semester. For grades, students lose their driver’s license for a full year, he said. It’s monitored more closely in real time now.
Former Attendance Director Linda McGraw built the foundation for their current driver’s license monitoring system. Her goal was to make it as efficient and the information as current as possible.
Ward set up satellite attendance offices at each school that involve assistant principals, principals at smaller schools and their secretaries.
Ward goes to each school every week. They talk about absences and together discuss what approach is needed to resolve the situation and whether they need to involve the courts. They also discuss absence cases they are still monitoring.
Every school has a system of monitoring attendance and an incentive program.
Ward said that homelessness is factor with attendance. Some 114 county students were considered homeless now, up from 86 last year.
The definition of homelessness for schools includes students in temporary housing and where families have doubled up living under the same roof.
Some families are transient because they can’t find work and then move elsewhere, he said. Others are displaced without an income and without somewhere to live because of eviction or losing the ability to rent or own a home. The number of families living out of their cars nationwide has jumped, Ward said.
Over five unexplained student absences could be happening for mixed reasons and indicate a family in crisis, he said.
Ward’s system of weekly attendance visits to each school where they coordinate planned approaches to absences started last year. Better use of technology meant certified letters to parents about children’s absences go out in a day or so when students reach the unexcused absence limit.
“Communication makes the difference,” he said.