Ohio bill to decriminalize truancy, calls for school intervention

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Legislation approved by Ohio lawmakers would decriminalize truancy and force schools to try and get truant students back to class before taking the issue to juvenile court.

Students would be declared “habitual truants” if they miss at least five consecutive school days, seven days in a month or 12 days in a year, The Plain Dealer reported. A team of school staff and a parent or guardian would then be required to look for ways to keep those children in school.

Under the bill, if a student doesn’t make any progress after two months, school districts would then file a complaint with the juvenile court and treat the absences as a delinquency issue.

The bill, which awaits Gov. John Kasich’s signature, also prohibits suspending students for skipping school.

“I hope this will keep kids in school and help find out why they are not in school,” said state Rep. Andrew Brenner, chair of the House Education Committee, who worked on the bill.

Determining why a child is absent could allow the school to address issues, including transportation, meals or clean clothes, Brenner said. Students and families could receive help for more serious issues.

“Are they in a gang?” Brenner asked. “Are they doing drugs? Is there some reason behind it? Then find a solution, so a kid is no longer truant.”

Damon Asbury, director of legislative services of the Ohio School Boards Association, said his group supports removing absenteeism from the courts and keeping kids in school.

“It’s an academic matter, not a judicial matter,” he said.

The Ohio 8 Coalition of urban school districts hasn’t commented on recent versions of the proposed law. The group has called for sending cases to courts only as a last resort if interventions are failing or parents aren’t cooperating.