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County schools institute tougher truancy penalties

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Wells receives positive evaluation from school board in closed session

By Kenny Colston

 

Parents of persistently truant students enrolled in Oldham County Schools will soon be facing stiffer penalties if their children continue to miss school.

In a move supported by OCS, County Attorney John Carter, local public defenders and district court judges, a new system was recently put in place to hold parents accountable earlier in the truancy process without parents being able to wiggle out of charges when a school year ends, Assistant Superintendent Dan Orman said.

“After seeing years of longitudinal data, we got the justice community’s attention,” Orman told the members of the OCS school board at their monthly meeting.

Previously, parents could stall in court appearances or briefly improve the attendance of their children, buying time until the school year ran out and charges were useless. Under the new plan, the court system runs a lot quicker for parents with truancy problems.

The plan is mostly for elementary school students, who have little control over whether they get to school or not, Orman said.

“Oldham County Schools has always experienced excellent attendance rates throughout our elementary schools,” Orman said. “But like in any community, we have a relatively small number of parents/guardians who allow their children to miss an inordinate number of days for reasons that are not aligned with definitions of ‘excused absence.’ ”

Under the new program, parents will be charged with unlawful transaction with a minor if deemed to have truant children. After an arraignment and first pre-trial conference, all parties involved meet to discuss possible custody changes or transportation help to alleviate the truancy. If the problem improves, the case is pushed for six weeks for monitoring. If the truancy continues to subside, a parent can give an open guilty plea to a lesser charge or have the charges dismissed without prejudice, which means the charges can be reopened at any time.

If improvements on truancy can’t be made the parent faces jail time or fines, Orman said.

“We don’t want parents going to jail, don’t want them paying fines,” he said. “We want their children in schools. Usually truancy is the symptom of something else.”

Since the system was implemented at the end of this school year, there has been improvement, Orman told the board, but there are still more than 40 families that have persistent truancy issues, he said.

And that has led some students to miss more than 40 days in a single school year and more than 100 days over a short period of time, according to data provided by Orman.

The county attorney agrees that jailing parents isn’t ideal, but could be required to fix a problem.

“Certainly, jailing parents for this failure serves no good purpose — except in extreme circumstances, which has yet to be necessary in Oldham County,” Carter said.

Carter added recent legislation provides a method for the school system and the courts to provide early and meaningful intervention where necessary to identify the root cause of truancy and to provide assistance or direction to families that struggle in their efforts to provide for the educational needs of their children.

“A quality education requires the participation of the parents and the child,” Carter said. “Schools can’t provide an educational environment for those children that do not attend.”

Orman said parents who have questions about attendance policies should contact their school for assistance.

“We won’t have any kid missing 50 days anymore,” Orman said. “When our little ones miss that much school, they can’t get it back.”

Drug incidents still decreasing

Orman also presented the annual report on drug and alcohol incidents on school grounds, noting once again a reduction in those events this past school year.

Alcohol-related incidents were down 54.5 percent from the previous school year, while drug-related incidents are down 59 percent from six years ago.

With 48 incidents total, the number represents the lowest since the 2002-2003 school year, Orman said, as well as a 22.6 percent decrease from last year. It’s a 53 percent increase from six years ago, he said.

“It’s encouraging and discouraging at the same time,” Orman said. “I don’t think we can relax and think drug use is dropping. But incidents at school are decreasing.”

The most incidents occurred at Oldham County High School, with 22 of the 48 incidents reported concerning students at OCHS.

Wells receives

positive evaluation

OCS Superintendent Will Wells was given a glowing performance review by the school board at their monthly meeting on Monday.

The evaluation of Wells took place during the board’s executive session, but Board Chair Joyce Fletcher gave a brief report on the evaluation after returning from closed session.

According to Fletcher, the board went through a weeks-long process, filling out surveys on Wells, as well as getting feedback from administrators in OCS. After the review, Fletcher said the board was pleased with Wells’ work.

“It’s the consensus of this board that Dr. Wells has done an outstanding job,” Fletcher said. “We have had an excellent year with Dr. Wells.”

The board also discussed compensation with Wells during the closed session, where it was agreed that Wells would only receive a step increase, like other teachers and administrators were receiving this year.

Wells responded with gratitude.

“It’s great to be superintendent of Oldham County Schools and getting to work with the best principals in the state,” Wells said. “It’s an unbelievable privilege to be in this role.

The board approved the evaluation 4-0. Further details of the evaluation were not immediately available.

Wells appointed to Chamber

Wells has also accepted a position on the Oldham Chamber and Economic Development board of directors, according to an announcement by chamber Executive Director Deana Epperly Karem.

Wells said he is excited for the opportunity to work with local businesses and to further foster the relationship between the business community and Oldham County Schools.

“Our students will continue to benefit through this partnership,” Wells said. “We hope to find additional opportunities for businesses to be involved in our district through sponsorships, mentoring, guest speakers and other venues.”

In addition, Wells said he hopes to continue promoting an initiative that allows chamber members to offer perks to school district employees.

“As the county’s largest employer — we have 1,800 teachers and staff members across the district — this is a great way to encourage our employees to shop local,” he said.

Karem said the appointment is a one-year term that can be renewed on an annual basis. Gayle Johnson, assistant to the superintendent, has previously represented the school district. However, Johnson retires from the district this month, and Karem said the executive committee agreed it was important to have that district voice as part of the board.

Wells will begin serving on the board in July.

Email us about this story at editor@oldhamera.com.