Ohio lawmakers question policies for students skipping class

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers are questioning policies that suspend or expel a student who repeatedly fails to show for school.

A pair of House Republicans recently introduced legislation aimed at changing how Ohio schools and courts deal with students who skip school, shifting from punishment to a focus on why students are truant and how to rectify the situation, The Columbus Dispatch reported on Sunday.

According to the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, excessive truancy accounted for nearly 6,000 suspensions during the 2012-13 school year.

"The most ridiculous thing we have on our books is the punishment for being truant is suspension or expulsion," said Sen. Peggy Lehner, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. "You're handing the kid exactly what they're asking for."

The House measure would no longer allow suspensions for truancy and would require schools to take thorough action before turning truancy cases over to the juvenile court system. Schools would need to notify parents when a student is nearing five consecutive unexcused absences, or seven in one month.

An intervention team would then try to address the underlying cause of the truancy if the issue continues. Students would no longer face criminal charges for missing days and courts would have to use diversion programs.

Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Bill Hayes, R-Granville, said the key is intervening early.

"The more you miss school, the less likely you are to go on and be successful," said Erin Davies, executive director of the Columbus-based Juvenile Justice Coalition.

Davies said the number of kids who don't want to go to school is less than people believe. More often, there are underlying issues that need to be addressed, including with their guardians, drug abuse, lack of food, or depression.

"The youth I've talked with, they talk about not feeling included at school," Davies said. "They feel rejected from this really positive environment."

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