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Our view: Getting truant children back in class

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

There is little doubt that an educated child fares better in the world.

Uneducated youth often wind up unemployable, living in poverty, or incarcerated. We as Illinois residents pay taxes to provide the facilities and teachers to prepare our offspring for life after childhood, with the hope that investment provides the foundation for a good life.

That is why it’s disheartening that there is still a small but significant group of students who are considered truant.

Statewide, the rate of chronically truant students had dropped each year since 2009 before jumping in 2012 from 3.2 percent to 8.6 percent, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

There wasn’t a sudden flood of students who decided to skip class: In July 2011, the state tightened standards on what constitutes a chronically truant student, defining it as having nine unexcused absences in 180 days, down from 18.

Identifying truant students sooner is a good move, as it allows for quicker intervention and a better chance of getting the child back in class.

But the child is usually not the root of the problem. The parents often are.

By the time the Regional Office of Education truancy outreach officer steps in, the school likely already has met with parents, done home visits and conferences, and provided counseling at the school. The McHenry County ROE had 60 truancy cases last year, and so far this year it has the same number.

Educators are required to do more with ever-shrinking resources. Yet they still fight for kids: The ROE’s office, for instance, plans to apply for a grant to get more funding for truancy services.

We need a similar effort from families whose children are truant. If parents don’t make doing homework and attending class mandatory, children will not place a priority on education.

Learning starts at home. Parents should be the foundation and active participants in their child’s education, not the ones hindering them along the way.

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