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Getting tough on truancy: The GRPS plan

12:44 AM, Oct 8, 2012   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- The superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools says 21 percent of students in the district miss 18 days or more of classes.

But now the district and state are enacting tougher truancy standards that will punish parents.

Helen Metcalf, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at GRPS says teaching is becoming difficult because of poor student attendance.

"When they are missing four days out of the week, which we've seen, those four days of rigorous instruction that they've missed out on [puts them] behind," explains Metcalf. 

District officials say each year, about 3,600 students regularly miss class, leading to poor grades and learning problems.

A recent state law targets truancy problems by taking welfare away from families whose children have poor school attendance.

Superintendent Teresa Neal says she's also taking an active approach to the issue. If four days of class are missed,  a student's attendance record goes to a truancy board.  After more than 11 days of missed classes, police and prosecutors will be called.

"We're not out to just prosecute or harm families, but what we want families to know is we're very serious about students coming to school. And if there's another issue, parents need to share that with us, " says Neal. 

Neal says prosecution does improve attendance records for students.

"When in fact students are not in school, it's a form of neglect. And I think that not coming to school is a symptom of a bigger issue.  Part of what we have to do  is remove the barrier," she adds. 

Metcalf hopes the plan keeps her students learning.

Superintendent Neal says parents don't lose their children when prosecuted, but they do have to attend parenting classes and face possible probation.


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