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Cape Girardeau schools' new attendance policy involves prosecuting attorney

Friday, September 24, 2010

Looking to boost a 72.9 percent high school graduation rate, the Cape Girardeau School District is beefing up its attendance policy -- putting parents on the hook for student absences.

Under the newly adopted procedures, the Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney's office will now send a warning letter to parents or guardians after a 10th unexcused student absence, according to the school district. If unexcused absences continue, the parent may be charged with violating the compulsory attendance law.

Violators could face up to 15 days in jail and a fine of $300, according to Carla Fee, the district's At-Risk coordinator.

"In some cases, unfortunately, we have parents who don't put an emphasis on education and don't enforce their children coming to school. They need to be held accountable," Fee said.

Parents have rarely been charged under the compulsory attendance law. Fee recalled one incident in the past three or four years. But the stakes are rising as the district strives to achieve a graduation rate of 90 percent by the 2013-2014 school year.

And keeping children in class is vital to reaching that goal.

About a year and a half ago, the district partnered with the United Way Education Solutions Team to examine the issues affecting Central High School graduation rates, which lag behind statewide averages. About 74 percent of all students in Missouri graduate from high school with a regular diploma in four years, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The financial costs for Missouri's economy are steep. Dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost Missouri almost $4.8 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes, according to an alliance study.

Administrators and the Education Solutions Team found that last year about one in four of all students in the district missed 10 days or more. At the same time the school system's daily average attendance rate was 94.3 percent, below the state average of 95.1 percent.

The educational ripple effect of all of those lost days are pronounced, Fee said.

"Kids who miss school are more likely to drop out," she said. "They develop bad habits for the workplace. They are more apt to have failing grades."

Chronic absenteeism can eventually create a disincentive to come to school. After 10 unexcused absences, a student loses their course credits, and they have to repeat the classes. That's not a motivator for a student who hates school.

So district officials say they are doing everything to keep at-risk students in the classroom and get them to graduation day. That includes everything from tutoring to a credit recovery program to career education classes. The campaign, Fee said, must begin at the elementary school level, to build successful learner behaviors.

Now the district is including the stick with the carrot in its drive to raise attendance and, ultimately, graduation rates.

Fee said the district will provide ample notice to parents as unexcused absences add up. Then Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, a member of the graduation study committee, will issue the warnings that charges may be imminent.

Swingle, in court Thursday, could not be reached for comment.

Under the compulsory attendance law, parents are responsible for their children's behavior. The student is not legally culpable, Fee said. The administrator said the stronger district policies should motivate at-risk students who care about their parents to make it to class.

"Our goal is to work with parents and guardians to get students to school so they can be more successful," said Jim Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District.

The campaign comes with a new slogan: "At Cape Public Schools, Every Day Counts -- Be There!"

mkittle@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO


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Are you really asking the problem to now become the solution? You do realize that the parents of these children are the same people WE went to school with who never showed up or skipped. Truency is a "learned" trait. If you teach a child to be responsible and honorable then that future parent will pass it on to their children. This fight should have been fought 25 years ago... good luck !!

-- Posted by Told-U-So on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 3:09 PM

What is to be considered an unexcused absence? I've looked at the district's board policy and student handbook and didn't see any quidelines on what is excused or unexcused. Is this left up to each principal to decide what an unexcused absence would be? How are parents to know? Just a question.

-- Posted by dgparham on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 3:57 PM

Another great use of our tax money.

-- Posted by heye1967 on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 4:18 PM

I must disagree with Told-U_So's opinion. From personal experience, sometimes parents just cannot keep that kid in school. I came from a single-parent household and my brother was a truant. My mother had to work. She could not babysit him and make him (at 14-15 years old) stay in school. I would personally drop him off on my way to my college classes and he would just turn around and leave. Once a teenager gets a mind of their own, there comes a point when they must be accountable for their actions. If this is going to be the case, what will become of these parents? Are you going to sit there and tell me that it's acceptable to throw the parent in jail, make them lose their job, and get the whole family kicked out onto the street just because little Johnny won't keep his butt in school? Please. Perhaps little Johnny needs to spend some time in juvenile hall or foster care until he learns to shape up. If the parent is working with the school and demonstrating a good faith effort, they should not bear the punishment. If it came down to me going to jail or little Johnny going to spend time in state sponsored care, get me the phone number for DCFS. They can have him.

-- Posted by RJB3 on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 4:21 PM

Why is the prosecuting attorney's office having to deal with Cape's habitual truant kids? Why is this not the school district's responsibility? I do not think the taxpayers from other area's should have to pay for the problem that Cape is having. Other schools, such as Jackson and Notre Dame, deal with their own truancy. I believe the court system is overworked as it, they do not need this added to it.

-- Posted by mystery9 on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 4:28 PM

RJB3 - good point and you are right in asking these questions. Each child should be considered on an individual basis. My point is that the percentage is higher that the majority of these children don't have the proper role models/parents to make this system sucessful.

-- Posted by Told-U-So on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 4:31 PM

"the parent may be charged with violating the compulsory attendance law"

In the state of Missouri the attendance law is 7-16. I hope this "prosecuting attorney" does not send out letters to parents whos children fall outside of this age range because that would be pure Harassment. I sure this will not be a problem because I cannot think of a time a police officer or prosecuting attorney has over stepped their authority, cough cough

-- Posted by kissrules2001us on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 4:44 PM

I think that's bull. When I was in school (class of 07) an excused absence was one that has a doctor's excuse. If you dont have one its unexcused even if the parent knows youre not at school. That's crazy. you dont go to the doctor everytime you're sick so they're basically forcing you go to the doc to get an excuse. I know my mom wasn't rich and everytime I went to the doc she had to pay out of pocket just so it can be excused. That's insane. That took money out of our household that could've honestly went elsewhere.

-- Posted by AshamedCitizen on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 4:50 PM

Thanks for posting that info Me'Lange, because it appears some didn't even know there was a law...and you are right 'bout time they inforce it.

-- Posted by concerned4all on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 6:53 PM

Well, you wake up a teen, set breakfast out for them, they dress, eat and you leave for work, kid doesn't follow through and go to school. That is bad, what is worse, the school does not contact parent until the 10th unexcused absence, therefore child fails the year. Where does the accountability of the school system to contact the parent fall in this story? Some children are pushed out of school for the convenience of the administration, believe me, I've been on both sides of this story and it happens, it happened to my child. Free and equal education isn't for everyone. Once a child has been labeled, academically or behavorially they go to their school grave, with it. Rather than diagnose what the issue is, make the kid a high school drop out.

Shame on you.

-- Posted by Let'scommunicate on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 7:59 PM

Even the prosecuting attorney can't fix stupid!!!!

-- Posted by cptfa on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 8:42 PM

"Even the prosecuting attorney can't fix stupid!!!!"

TRUE, a stupid person cannot fix another stupid person, IMO!!!!!

-- Posted by kissrules2001us on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 9:39 PM

I believe there is also an added stipulation that at 12 and up the child is also held accountable for not attending school and can be taken to the juvenile office.

-- Posted by Jamicangirl on Thu, Sep 23, 2010, at 10:54 PM

Good for Cape Schools! Parents need to be responsible for their children and that includes getting them to school.

Elementary kids who are habitually absent usually are not at fault. Their parents can't get their butts out of bed to get their kids to school. They are guaranteeing failure for their kids in school. That is a public problem - that is a societal problem.

High school students who don't come to school need to be prosecuted. They often become people who decide to keep on skipping the rules of society. They decide they want to skip work too. Then people who do work end up supporting them.

Go Cape - Prosecute. Parents and kids need to take the attendance law seriously.

-- Posted by juste_me_ on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 5:08 AM

I find this proposal ironic. The prosecuting attorney may prosecute the parent for a child not attending school, but when a child becomes 17 years of age they no longer have to stay at home and the parent according to law cannot force them to remain in the home and therefore make them attend school.

-- Posted by Mobeel on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 7:09 AM

A local school rule... if your child has a fever, the fever has to be gone for 24 hours before he/she can return to school per the school nurse. This happened to my child who was coming down with strep throat. I told them the first day and the second day wasn't quite 24 hours. But then I was told by the Principal that the second day was an unexcused absence. Does that make any sense?? And then when he was diagnosed with the strep throat and had to be out of school because he was contagious, even after a note from the doctor, they still said that some of the days were unexcused. Now make up my mind!!

-- Posted by Wildnsyko on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 7:10 AM

Great another instance of not appointing personal responsibility. It is always great to get a third party involved. This always makes a better outcome. I agree kids need to go to school but there are instances, some described by people above that you just cannot make a child go to school or you try and they walk away from the campus. Oh, wait I am sure these people who are for this are the first in line to call for abuse charges when the kids cry abuse when the parents try to make the child go to school or talk about how young adults do not take personal responsibility.

Schools are messed up. My kids school excuses nothing except for sick. When he got in trouble for moving seats a few times on the bus he was kicked off. But hey its okay for the driver to drive away before the children sit down. It was not him the school held accountable, it was us, the parents who had to drive him back and forth for two weeks.

Schools are becoming power hungry administrator farms. Deal with the kids, get the parents involved. Call the parents, talk to them, set a time where they can come in, you may have to work evenings to accommodate their schedule. If the parents don't come in and it continues then deal with that case by case. But first and foremost it should be at least from 9-12 grade students who are responsible for their actions. I understand there may be an issue with delinquency in school but Cape is going about this all wrong. Parents need to stand up against the schools and protest all these "laws" they dream up and teach the school what they are there for. Many are trying to teach our kids values. Values are to be taught at home, academics are to be taught by schools. There have always been bad parents and blanket policies never work for the masses.

-- Posted by SAHD on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 7:17 AM

Sounds more like a "Fund Raiser" to me! Where do the fines go when the parent gets charged? My sister paid $1500 for my nephew and so (supposedly) did he! $3000 in fines for what? She is a widow with no income other than her SS survivors benefits and had to take a loan out on her home to pay to stay out of jail. Where is the Justice?

-- Posted by EvlMcgyver on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 7:17 AM

EvlMcgyver.............holy crap !!! What did they do? Steal the school ?

-- Posted by mohacker on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 7:44 AM

He didn't go and she isn't nearly large enough to make him so she got punished too. Frankly I'm sure that getting his brains kicked in by the big kids had something to do with it, but even MY cynical behind wasn't expecting a fine like that! He was not quite old enough to quit or GED out.

I'm also suspicious anytime our legal system gets involved with enforcing morals - especially when they punish those who may or may not be able to affect the outcome. Funny how hard economic times kick start prosecution of morality crimes!

-- Posted by EvlMcgyver on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 8:03 AM

YOU GO CAPE SCHOOLS! why are pro-active solutions criticized? Go back to sleep and be quiet...if you do not want to change the negative status quo..gripping and complaining about the past has very little to do with success now!!forward thinking proposal..you go carla fee...thanks for all your hard work with kids in the alternative school..you guys do an EXCELLENT job w/ at risk kids..( i know cause i have been a substitute teacher, there) and who tells you thanks?

-- Posted by mindspace on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 8:14 AM

Just like the government - when the policies in place do not give the intended results, they go for more and more power to force the issue to success.

It never works.

What else would you expect from a government run school?

-- Posted by Hawker on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 8:50 AM

i have read all of these posts and my initial impression is that right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. It apprears that there is a policy set and when that policy is adhered to, the child/family is punished. i.e. what Wildnsyko posted about the child being fever free 24 hours but then the school counted the second day as unexcused. This seems to be the trend of government run institutions.

My point in my first post is why should the prosecuting attorney have to have more work load dumped on them because the Cape school district and cititzens cannot take care of their own problem. What is the school district doing before it is escalated to the prosecuting attorney?

-- Posted by mystery9 on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 8:58 AM

Parents have always been notified, usually at absence 2-3 that their child has missed school. Warning letters continue after that, along with phone calls from the school.

-- Posted by proudamerican on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:03 AM

Ten? After TEN unexcused absences? And that does

not count the excused absences. Why not a warning letter after five, or three?

I would think that by the time the number of unexcused absences reaches 10, it is too late.

-- Posted by docksider21 on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:04 AM

mystery9 - the prosecuting attorney is involved because it is the law.

Cape schools send letters, make phone calls, do home visits, counsel students, talk with parents -what else would you suggest?

-- Posted by proudamerican on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:08 AM

Larger city school districts already have this action in place and your kid has to be absent an awful lot for no reason before the school notifies authorities. Memphis city schools started cracking down 3 years ago after noticing the same trend. There are parents out there that truly decide if their kid goes to school depending on if they feel like getting out of bed after partying all night. If your kid thinks they're too cool to go to school or doesn't want to for other reasons, they might want to look at adult basic education (GED) or juvenile hall if that isn't an option they are willing to try.

-- Posted by ezlikesundaymorning on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:12 AM

Anyone who considers this "forward thinking" must not be paying attention. Penalizing parents doesn't work, it only punishes the family. It creates a larger workload to enforce such nonsense. For what it's worth, I have YET to see anyone define exactly why a particular student doesn't go to school and isn't that REALLY the problem? You want "forward thinking" then find out WHY it's happening. Those who have had a glorious childhood, I'm happy for you! Be grateful - not everyone has it so lucky! If you're only going to complain, then shut the heck up. You aren't allowed to complain unless you have a suggestion to offer, how about that? Would you go to your job every day if you were physically assaulted? Would you report it if it only made things worse? I'm sure that isn't the case for everyone but look at who their roll models and heros are. Why not punish them too for not putting out a positive message about school. All I'm saying is that I don't know what the answer is, but I know that legal action isn't it. And before I get blasted, how many have been active in their child's school on a weekly basis this year? Make sure your child knows why YOU are a hero and what makes someone a hero. Lead by example. If your child's education isn't important enough for you to be involved in, then what does that tell them?

-- Posted by EvlMcgyver on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:19 AM

If parents can't keep their kids in school, then perhaps they shouldn't be parents.

-- Posted by southeast on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:29 AM

Carla Fee with the school district wanted to set the record straight on a few aspects of this story. She emailed us with a few points of clarification. Here they are:

1) It has been past practice and will continue to be practice to send warning letters, starting at absence 2.

2) Most schools make daily phone calls to students who are absent.

3) It is common for administrators, counselors, social worker, parent liaisons to make home visits to families who have students with multiple absences.

4) The prosecuting attorney is involved because it is the law.

5) Excused absences are those with a medical excuse or have been sent home by the school nurse.

-- Posted by Matt Sanders on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:57 AM

@southeast That was uncalled for. There is no need to suggest anyone kill a child who won't go to school. Of course I'm joking but you missed the part about offering a positive idea along with your complaint.

-- Posted by EvlMcgyver on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 9:59 AM

Some kids no matter how hard they try just don't like regular school. If it becomes that big of a problem they should get their GED. I've worked with alot of people who have done that and finished college as well. The point is school is a necessity and parents who do nothing to fix the problem of delinquint children should be held accountable. Find a school or program that works best for your kid or if need, call the school and check if your kids is there, if not call the truancy officer yourself cuz little suzy or johnny can't sit at home or hang out because he doesn't want to sit and learn for 8 hours.

-- Posted by ezlikesundaymorning on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 10:16 AM

Well this is all fine and dandy! Let's keep the kids in school and fail them if they have more than the allowed unexcused absences!

Now lets add to that issue and punish those teachers who are habitually absent or those that don't have a doctors excuse! The drop our rate will not decrease much if any with this new procedure.

As someone said earlier at 17 years of age a kid can leave school on his own without ANYONES permission if he or she so desires! Frankly, something other than attendance and truency is wrong when we have a 72.9% drop out rate and you don't have to be a administrator,teacher or prosecuting attorney to realize that!! WAKE UP FOLKS, something else is terribly wrong and parents,teachers,administrators and the government are all to blame. JMO

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 10:45 AM

Before you spelling police call me out, I was in a hurry so please forgive me for any spelling errors in my last post.(truency) etc..

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 10:48 AM

I have a daughter who had a truancy problem when she was a teenager. (The only one of seven children to exhibit this behavior). One time she decided to stay home without her parents permission or knowledge, (I was at work and her mother was in the hospital). She had had previous run-ins with the law and so when she didn't show up at school that day, her juvenile officer came to the house and rousted her up and took her to school. She later dropped out of school (again without her parents permission or knowledge), but later got her GED and is now in college. I've learned a lot from being a parent (I guess that's why we have children) and found that what works for one doesn't work for all. You can have everything from the straight A kid to the drop out in the same family, reared in the same environment. You love them all regardless and pray they will turn out okay and somehow either because of or despite of their parents, they somehow do.

-- Posted by Observer1 on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 10:50 AM

In 05, I tried to get a clear explanation from both my kids' assistant principal and the principal as to what constituted excused and non-excused because the handbook was unclear. I had to ask the administrators because the attendance secretary didn't know! I got no less than 4 different answers from the two men I spoke with and then one of them said they don't actually have a clearly-stated definition and to do so would be "splitting hairs". I asked them how they could determine how to put the absence on the student's record if they couldn't even define what was excused vs. unexcused, and they had no answer for that. They told me this would be taken care of in the next handbook, but it wasn't.

-- Posted by pmiinch on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 11:18 AM

If I child is sick for 10 days throughout the year, this is a medical issue the child needs to go to the doctor - this is different than a one time 24hr bug that doesn't require a doctor visit. Cross Trails charges on a sliding fee.

For other reasons, the schools need to be more proactive finding ways to keep kids in school such as increasing enrollment at the alternative school and providing daycare for high school students.

My fear here is that if a parent gets a letter, the child will be pulled out of school and "home-schooled," which isn't well regulated in MO.

-- Posted by qzerp on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 11:51 AM

How many administrators/teachers in school listen to the children? Having 2 in high school and hearing some of the stories they tell about the harassment to certain children from their peers and some of the teachers is a huge reason for some of the kids not attending school. It is not a safe haven for some, it is a torturous day for many. Some children would rather take the punishment for missing school than the brutality of the other students and the attitude of some teachers. While Carla Fee does a wonderful job with students at risk, even she had to fight the school board about the placement of the alternative school. They built the new school so far out of town that many kids can't get there if they miss the bus or wake up late, because they have no transportation and can't walk that far to get there in time. When I attended school they were on the phone if you missed one hour of class, and now it's 10 unexcused days? Not all parents are aware that their children stay home, as some stated you can take them there and they still leave without your permission. Maybe Officer Wyatt needs to meet them at the door and escort them into the classroom before the prosecuting attorney gets invovled. Punishing a hard working parent trying to make ends meet because of a teenager with an attitude seems to be a bit extreme and causes undue hardship for the rest of the family, put their butts in juvi and have a juevinile officer load them all up and take them into the building instead of making a parent face the potential of loosing their livelihood. As Observer1 stated, all kids are different some follow the rules and others don't no matter how they were raised.

-- Posted by Sunflower Girl on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 11:54 AM

The main issue here will be "with a medical excuse. My child had migraines all through school and still does. We could occasionally keep the vomiting at bay if she were allowed to stay home and rest in a darkened room. We did not get a MEDICAL EXCUSE everytime she was ill. I would have been prosecuted for keeping her home with the hopes of holding off a full blown migrane as she did miss more than 10 days.

-- Posted by all_i_hear_is_blah_blah on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 12:25 PM

To Wild and Ashamed,

that simply is not true. Excused absences do not require a doctor's note. Please check with the school district on what constitutes an unexcused absence. You are required to stay home 24 hours after being fever free. That WILL NOT result in an unexcused absence.

-- Posted by Beaker on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 5:19 PM

MEDICAL EXCUSE does not require a doctor's note. It does require a parent notifying the child's school that the child is home due to illness.

-- Posted by Beaker on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 5:20 PM

I am astounded by the number of people on this board are are not in support of this policy. The comments made about teacher involvement make me just shake my head. Each and every day I put a smile on my face and walk in the door of my school ready to give my kids a new day, a clean slate and an opportunity to learn. Each and every day I am disrespected, shouted at, ignored and laughed at by the kids at my school. But I can tolerate their disrespect and rudeness because at least they are there. There are kids who miss so often that it causes them to be behind in the class, many times to the point that they are never able to catch, much less keep up. These kids' parents are NEVER available when I try to call. No voice mail or no working phone makes it impossible to get a message to them. Home visits are done when necessary....but I'm already working over 60 hours a week between class prep, teaching and grading papers. I love my job. I love my kids. But additional time to hunt down a child and talk to parents who would rather be doing anything than talking to me makes me shudder. Shame on you parents who don't get your kids to school. Thank you Cape Public Schools administration for finally dealing with this issue.

-- Posted by proud of cape public schools on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 6:30 PM

Beaker and Matt: It depends on the school and it depends on how the Prinicipal treats your child. In this particular school, we didn't get along with the Principal, so therefore, even with doctor's notes for everytime he was sick, we still got the letter how that he missed 8 days. Gee, when you have strep throat, you have to stay home to get better. True and have documentation to go with it. Had talked to the Superintendent about the situation and needless say there was no help there. Finally had to move to another school district. Much better one at that.

-- Posted by Wildnsyko on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 8:48 PM

I'm glad Wildnsyko that you able to move to a much better district - I bet your old district was too.

-- Posted by concerned4all on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 10:03 PM

Quote: "I'm glad Wildnsyko that you able to move to a much better district - I bet your old district was too.

-- Posted by concerned4all on Fri, Sep 24, 2010, at 10:03 PM"

It was very unfortunate about the past school. It seemed the Principal was only concerned about certain things. And due to the nature of the area... the rich kids and the poor kids... he tended to single out the lower class and treat them differently than the rich kids. But, what comes around, goes around. How you treat people will come back to bite you in the butt. Always has, always will.

-- Posted by Wildnsyko on Sat, Sep 25, 2010, at 2:44 PM

I think we need to hold teachers accountable also there are many teachers that miss more than 10 days a year.The teachers should lead by example because if a kid doesn't see their regular teacher there everyday they will probaly think well if the teacher can skip so can I.Also I think the teachers and everybody should encourage all of the kids to go to school.

-- Posted by 314djhh on Sat, Sep 25, 2010, at 4:55 PM

It's great fun reading comments from people who have no real insight into what they're commenting about.

-- Posted by Marion_Morrison on Sun, Sep 26, 2010, at 8:36 PM


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