School is beginning its second month now, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community schools and Community Relations program of the Education Department would like to encourage parents not to let their children miss school.
Last year an amendment was made to the Community’s truancy ordinance, which includes taking a tough stance on truancy and implementing hefty fines.
Under the truancy ordinance, any student missing five school days in a semester in elementary school or five class periods in a semester in high school (grades 7 through 12) will be cited for truancy.
According to the ordinance, truancy is defined as one or more “absences” … pursuant to the administrative truancy procedures adopted by a Community school and approved by the Salt River Community Board of Education, or that have been referred by a school outside the Community pursuant to procedures which have been formally deemed equivalent by the Salt River Community Board of Education. Truancy is considered a criminal offense within the Community and state.
The school attendance officers work hand and hand with the school counselors and students who cannot make it to school or are late on a regular basis to make sure there are not any obstacles at school or at home that are preventing the student’s success in school.
The Attendance Officer’s Role
Each attendance officer covers many different schools and follows the ordinance that was passed by the Council to ensure kids are making it to school.
Each school has its own procedure for intervention, such as phone calls or a meeting with the parents. The schools usually do their part and make these attempts before the problem reaches the level of legal truancy.
Chris Dinehdeal, a school attendance officer, explains when the school intervenes with the parents or family. “It’s really when the schools feel that there is an issue going on,” he said.
Sometimes it’s not the student’s choice to miss school; for example, a child in Lehi was missing the bus every day because road construction kept the bus from entering a particular area where that child is picked up. The school was not aware of the problem, but it is now looking at an alternate bus route.
“So far the attendance is leveling off; there is no telling if the ordinance has altered the attendance at this point,” said Miranda Johnson, a home liaison with Behavioral Health. “There are [fewer] repeat offenders since the ordinance.”
The Community’s truancy ordinance was updated last year. The old ordinance stated that unexcused, unverified absences lead to truancy; the new ordinance states that it is unlawful for any child between five and 18 years of age who resides within the Community to have excessive absences, regardless of the reason or justification for such. This behavior will lead to truancy and parents/guardians will be fined. The first fine is $1,000; the second is $2,500; and if it occurs a third time, then it’s an automatic $5,000 plus $500 for every day and/or period missed per day.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
“Parents and guardians need to keep an open line of communication to their schools and with the school community relations department, since the [attendance] officers are the first responders to different attendance issues,” said Johnson.
“Just let us know what is going on, and if we can be of any service. The officer’s role is not to give out citations, but to make sure that the children are getting to school on time and to [help them] become more successful in school,” said Norma Torres, attendance technician. “Truancy is a big problem out here, and we just want to help the students become successful and hopefully graduate.”
If a student misses five days consecutively, then the school will contact the attendance officer. The officer will go to the school and meet with the student if he or she is there; if the student isn’t there, then the officer will make home visits to see what’s going on.
At that time, the parents or guardian receives a notification letter with dates the student missed and asks if they can explain the absences. If so, they will not be cited for truancy and the problem will be resolved to the satisfaction and benefit of the family, school and attendance officers.
But if the attendance isn’t improving, then the family will be cited. This is when a truancy case can go to court.
The department helps with the process of students returning from boarding school so they don’t get cited for truancy. There are also incentive programs for students with perfect attendance (no tardies or absences for the whole quarter) and students with a 3.3 GPA or higher. These students are congratulated with a dinner for them and their families.
For more information on truancy or to contact an attendance officer, call (480) 362-2534 or Education administration at (480) 362-2500.