Officials' absences stall work on policy

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Federal law and state requirements make school attendance more important than ever.

However, efforts to reduce truancy in Richmond County stalled in the past school year because of absences by the officials charged with addressing the issue.

Before the 2005-06 school year, the Georgia General Assembly mandated that each county form a committee to establish a truancy policy and meet regularly to find ways to reduce absences through a collaborative community effort.

But Richmond County's attendance protocol committee suffered attendance problems. In January, it couldn't officially meet because it didn't have a quorum. Committee members were attempting to revise a form letter, but they couldn't even do that.

"If we wait on a quorum to revise a letter, it may never get approved," Deputy Superintendent James Thompson said at the time.

Only five of 11 scheduled committee meetings were officially held. Absences at the other six prevented any official action.

To encourage better attendance, the committee reduced its monthly meetings to quarterly sessions.

In most of Georgia, the attendance law has been effective, said state Superintendent Kathy Cox.

"We have, statewide, reduced our attendance absentee rates in half," she said.

If the law hasn't worked, then it is a local issue that must be handled by local officials, she said.

Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden said it's a community issue as much as it is a school issue. Speaking in April to Pride N' Progress, a south Augusta advocacy group, he was asked what he intends to do with the pupils who are skipping school and hanging out at McDonald's.

"It has to be, for a lack of a better term, a communitywide, villagewide effort to say that this is what is supposed to happen during the day, you're supposed to go to get educated so that you have a better quality of life down the road," Dr. Bedden said.


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