W.Va. public school truancy rate tops 30 pct

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Nearly a third of West Virginia's public school students were truant during the 2013-2014 academic year and several counties had truancy rates exceeding 50 percent, Department of Education figures show.

The highest truancy rate was in McDowell County, where 58 percent of students missed at least five days of classes without an excuse. Wyoming County had the second-highest rate, with 57 percent of students marked as truant.

Jefferson County had the lowest rate, 7 percent. The rate in Kanawha County, the state's largest school district, was 34 percent.

The statewide truancy rate was about 31 percent.

McDowell County Superintendent Nelson Spencer told The Sunday Gazette-Mail (http://bit.ly/1sPz2q6 ) that truancy cases are a byproduct of poverty and drug abuse.

"It all ties together. You really can't separate one from another," Spencer told the newspaper. "We like to reach out to the students themselves. We deal with the students one-on-one more than we do the parents."

The school system has hired "graduation coaches" to spend extra time with at-risk students in the county's high schools. Reconnecting McDowell, a public-private partnership, has provided resources that have contributed to engaging students and making them want to come to school more than before, Spencer said.

Jefferson County school officials have made a strong push to reduce truancy, said Sheri Hoff, the county's director of attendance.

"Our numbers were astronomically high nearly a decade ago — near 80 percent. We weren't really identifying them then. Now, we have a concerted effort. A bus driver, a cafeteria manager, they all make calls to let us know," Hoff told the newspaper. "We have pushed very hard for a number of years to get (students) here and to get interventions in place."

Kanawha County Magistrate Traci Carper-Strickland, who oversees truancy cases in the county, said she likes to consider herself as a last resort.

"I don't know if people are afraid or too proud to ask for that help, but it's there. They need to know it's there, and they need to be able to ask for it," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, there is no punishment for students. We're trying to keep them out of court. We give them the opportunity to correct the problem without having to see a judge."

Parents are responsible in truancy cases involving a student under the age of 12. They could face fines for the first offense and jail time for a second offense.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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