A few weeks ago, The Dispatch lobbed a series of uncalled-for attacks at the schools surrounding some internally raised questions (questions) regarding the tracking of student attendance. Shameful attacks based on accusations of former employees; non-educators who merely entered data. To date, the strongest “breaking of the law” the paper has been able to report is some missing paperwork, though to read their reporting you’d think it is a federal case. If they had engaged in some additional research based on the information they have gathered, they would have uncovered what we will proceed to explain here: you can’t break a law that doesn’t exist.
At this point you may be ready to stop ready and hit the recommend button above, but I encourage you to continue reading, even if you’re tired of reading about education (NEVER say that out loud, by the way). This story is about more than education — it’s about a mindset, a way of thinking that assumes guilt before asking any questions. It’s about the eagerness of right-wing media and right-wing politicians to attack public education.
You can imagine my surprise that my State Representative would respond in such a way, especially given his experience on the House Education Committee (less than 19 months). I figure he would have surely know that the laws surrounding school attendance are an absolute joke. But alas, I was disappointed by his hubris once again.
The allegations are best summarized in the Dispatch article:
Sometimes, they’d retroactively withdraw and re-enroll chronically absent students to erase their poor attendance records, current and former district employees say. Their schoolwide attendance and academic numbers would improve in just a few computer keystrokes because the withdrawn students’ test scores would no longer count.
The former analysts say it has been going on for years.
I hope what they describe has been going on for years — that’s called tracking student attendance and is kind of a BFD in schools. These simple claims of withdrawing students has been repeated again and again, claiming that such actions are improper and are the heart of this “investigation.” Strange, then, that there is not a single item “exposed” by the Dispatch that breaks any law.
zero, nothing, void, aught, scratch, nada, naught, nil, blank, nix, zilch, zip
Let me try to explain briefly (no laughing).
First, a school district is responsible for tracking attendance and submitting the information to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). There are thick manuals for explaining how to do this, but for our purposes we’ll be referencing the FY 2011 ODE EMIS Manual; Chapter 2: Reporting Student Data. The district must enter one of many different codes to identify the reason a student is being withdrawn (when applicable) from the district’s roster. On page 41, you find this one:
71 - Withdrew Due to Truancy/Nonattendance
Now, how does a district determine what constitutes use of this category? Well, search every other manual and you will come up empty. You will certainly know HOW to use the code to identify nonattendance withdrawals, but you will still have no idea WHEN to use it.
Actually, search ALL of the Ohio Department of Education website for guidance in determining when a child can be withdrawn for nonattendance. Eventually, you may stumble upon this obscure reference in a newsletter for Ohio’s charter schools:
Still unclear? Take a look at the referenced sections of Revised Code and we begin to get some clarity.
A copy of every contract entered into under this section shall be filed with the superintendent of public instruction.
(A) Each contract entered into between a sponsor and the governing authority of a community school shall specify the following:
(6)(a) Dismissal procedures;
(b) A requirement that the governing authority adopt an attendance policy that includes a procedure for automatically withdrawing a student from the school if the student without a legitimate excuse fails to participate in one hundred five consecutive hours of the learning opportunities offered to the student.
Done? Not quite. Sure that stipulation gives us a time span of roughly fifteen days, but this law only applies to charter schools, not public districts.
Here’s another loose reference to withdrawing students:
(A) Each internet- or computer-based community school shall withdraw from the school any student who, for two consecutive school years, has failed to participate in the spring administration of any assessment prescribed…
Two years, 15 days, not much difference. <eye roll>
But if these laws exist then there must be a companion law on the books for public districts to help us settle this dispute, right? Not exactly. And by not exactly I mean no, there is no law that dictates precisely when a district needs to withdraw and/or re-enroll a student. Instead, we have only these assorted definitions about truancy:
3321.191 Board to adopt policy regarding habitual truancy – intervention strategies.
(C) Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the duty or authority of a district board of education or governing body of an educational service center to develop other policies related to truancy or to limit the duty or authority of any employee of the school district or service center to respond to pupil truancy.
(19) “Habitual truant” means any child of compulsory school age who is absent without legitimate excuse for absence from the public school the child is supposed to attend for five or more consecutive school days, seven or more school days in one school month, or twelve or more school days in a school year.
(D) “Chronic truant” means any child of compulsory school age who is absent without legitimate excuse for absence from the public school the child is supposed to attend for seven or more consecutive school days, ten or more school days in one school month, or fifteen or more school days in a school year.
That’s it. Seriously. For realz.
You can now certainly understand my need for this post. I was shocked that Education Committee members weren’t aware that there is no law that defines when a district is permitted or required to “withdraw” a student. Therefore, districts are left to independently make the decision about when to use these definitions of truancy/nonattendance in reporting a student as having withdrawn. And because a student who is identified as truant to the point of being withdrawn isn’t usually identified until weeks later, when do you think the attendance adjustments would be done? As late as the end of the year or mid-June still sound unreasonable?
Finally, as for allegations that these withdrawals affected the schools’ attendance rates and potentially their school report cards? Well, duh. Why should schools and teachers (now slated to be evaluated based on student performance) suffer lower scores for students who have moved elsewhere with no return address?
All that being said, I only have two takeaways for you from this post:
- The right-wing Dispatch does not feel the need to produce a single shred of evidence for fabricating wild accusations in sensational articles designed to cause maximum damage to public school districts (I’m still waiting for their exposé on charter school attendance).
- Republicans believe what they read in the Dispatch.
- A second Ohio school district reveals attendance “scrubbing” – will ODE investigate?
- Reporters continue rigging stories about school attendance audit
- School attendance probe now includes Ohio Department of Education
- Ohio’s State Auditor grasping at straws in attendance probe
- Columbus Dispatch continues school-attendance witch hunt