A new truancy law could mean serious consequences for Cape Henlopen students, particularly those who cut classes.
“Once a kid hits 20 days of unexcused absences for a class, they're going to go to court,” said Randall Redard, visiting teacher and homeless liason for Cape Henlopen School District. “This law is going to have more of an impact than ever.”
In past years, Redard said, the district focused on kindergarten through fifth-graders who missed school because of unexcused absences. Now, he said, the law sets stricter attendance rules for sixth-grade through senior year at high school. That means high school students who in the past have repeatedly cut class after lunch, at the end of the school day, or any time for that matter, will no longer be allowed to do so, Redard said.
“Any time a student is not in school and there is not a written excuse, or if the reason on the excuse is not valid, it will result in an unexcused absence,” Redard said.
The new law has eliminated the flexibility, Redard said, he once had to determine whether to take a high school student to truancy court. In fact, he said, the truancy court previously discouraged truant officers from bringing in students who are 16 or older. At age 16 and 17, students can drop out of school with their parents' written permission. By 18, a student can sign themselves out of school permanently.
Redard said he handles about 25 truant cases a year; he expects that will more than double under the new law.
“The courts are already preparing for this,” he said. “Cape cases used to go on the same day as Seaford and Woodbridge. The court is considering giving Cape it's own day.”
The Cape Henlopen School District mails a letter to parents after their child has three unexcused absences, explaining to them the state law and implications if their child continues to miss school without an acceptable excuse. Letters are further sent after the child's sixth and ninth unexcused. By the 10th unexcused absence, Redard said, he meets with the parents to make sure they understand that they will have to go to court unless the unexcused absences cease.
“Kids need to be in school. It's a safe environment,” he said.
Redard said about 95 percent of the truancy cases he takes to court involve mental issues, drug issues or both. Once the court is involved, he said, children often are able to quickly get treatment and the help they need to become productive students.
At the high school, Redard said, he predicts the attendance problem will improve, although his caseload there will increase.
“If you're 19-and-a-half years old and close to graduation, and you hit 20 days, you're going to court,” Redard said.