EFFINGHAM — Keeping students in school is still a priority the Regional Office of Education is dealing with on a major level, particularly as it applies to truancy.
“Truancy is a problem and it’s always been a problem,” said ROE 3 Superintendent Julie Wollerman, who oversees Effingham, Fayette and Bond counties.
Wollerman said students are considered truant after missing more than one fifth of the total school days over a year, but the ROE’s office begins to take notice of students who have five unexcused absences from school. While the great majority of students who are categorized as chronically truant are between fifth and eighth grade, Wollerman said the key issues in fighting truancy come at a much younger age.
“Those are habits beginning at a younger level,” she said. “We encourage students and parents to start those habits of attending school early.”
Wollerman said the issue generally begins with the family, often when removing students from school as a matter of convenience to the parent, whether it be for another child’s doctors appointments or for family vacations. She said the impact a student feels from missing school is almost immediate.
The need for keeping students in a habit of going to school is seen clearly by Julie Morrell, a truancy officer with the Regional Office of Education. While kindergarten through eighth grade students are taken through the Regular Attendance Program, run by Cathy Jones to prevent truancy, Morrell works primarily with high school students and begins the court processes when necessary.
“I always say that Cathy is the good cop and I’m the bad cop,” Morrell said. “I don’t have a lot of stickers or incentives. My incentive is you come to school or we go to court. It’s that simple.”
Morrell works primarily with students who are deemed as chronically truant, meaning they have nine or more unexcused absences in a 180 school day period. She spends time with students primarily encouraging them to return to school, and works with families to foster those habits. However, her work often comes to writing a referral to the courts, which can bring charges against juveniles or their parents.