Next school year, Richmond County students will face a new attendance protocol that will seek to solve problems with unexcused absences.
"It's going to be a lot better. We're going to try to intervene on some things," said school board President Marion Barnes.
The policy, which has been in the works since a subcommittee was assigned in November 2008 to rewrite the school system's protocol, was approved at the school board's most recent meeting. The subcommittee was made up of several area officials, including those from the school system, the state Department of Juvenile Justice and the Health Department.
The policy calls for teachers and administrators "to monitor attendance and to intervene, as appropriate to encourage attendance, notify parents of attendance issues, have social workers organize home visits and conduct attendance meetings with parents through the school's attendance review panel."
The goal is to address problems before cases are referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
"The courts are piling up," said Barnes, noting that the new procedure should reduce that case load and get to the heart of truancy problems quicker.
A student is considered truant if he or she has more than five days of unexcused absences.
Excused absences include personal illness, a family death or funeral, medical or dental appointments, special and recognized religious holidays observed by the student's faith, an order by a government agency or "extreme circumstances that cannot be resolved outside school hours," the policy states.
Officials have said truancy numbers have improved, but in past years as many as 1,000 students have been referred to court for truancy. The cause of the problem would then be addressed and officials would be ordered to work with the student and his or her family.
Juvenile Court Judge Ben Allen, who is assigned to truancy court, has said he doesn't believe it makes sense to bring students who missed days directly into court. He said an effort should be made beforehand to find out what the problem is, noting that in some cases it could be a health issue or a problem at home.