Truancy has long been an issue in Canton City Schools, but this school year, the offenders have gotten younger.
While they may not be hanging out at the mall or roaming the streets, absent kindergartners and first-graders are a problem here.
Truancy, while not unusual for older kids attending Canton City Schools, has become a surprising issue for the district this year because of the age group it is affecting.
“Truancy levels at the kindergarten and first-grade levels are horrendous,” said Superintendent Michele Evans.
As of Jan. 5, she said, 56 first-graders had missed 10 days or more of school. At the kindergarten level, it is worse — 76 students had missed 10 or more days during the first semester. The numbers have grown from four years ago, when 55 kindergartners and 31 first-graders missed 10 or more days during the same time period.
“We thought we would have to concentrate on fifth and sixth grade,” Evans said, noting that truancy typically becomes an issue as students get a little older.
Attendance is not compulsory in Ohio until age 6.
Evans said the district studied the truancy numbers after Christmas and decided an intervention was necessary for the youngest students as a preventive measure. School officials went door-to-door Friday and talked to parents about the importance of making sure their kids attend school regularly.
“We want to establish good attendance habits early. We want kids in school,” she said emphatically.
The home visits revealed numerous reasons why students are truant: health issues, bullying concerns with older students that also impact younger siblings, even a parent’s work schedule can result in a student’s tardiness or truancy from school.
Evans said that attendance across the district is not bad, but that a small percentage needed the intervention. In the past, the schools and Stark County Family Court have offered parenting classes to help reduce truancy.
“Sometimes parents need help. When we started this at the high-school level, we found that some just didn’t have (school) supplies,” Evans said.
To combat that problem, she said, the district delivered school supplies to some families before the classes began in the fall.
According to City Prosecutor Ty Hauritz, parents are usually sent to mediation first, if they are in violation of the Canton City ordinance that requires parents to send their kids to school.
“If it is not successful, they come to my office,” he explained.
Hauritz tells parents that if they continue to let their kids miss school, he will file criminal charges. A parent could be sent to jail if a child is habitually truant or tardy.
“They are essentially cheating their kids out of an education,” he said of the parents who allow their children to miss seven or more days in a school month, 12 or more days in a school year, or be tardy seven days in a school year.
Page 2 of 2 - Hauritz said he meets, on average, one or two parents each week and hears an array of excuses, such as the alarm never went off.
As kids get older, he said, family court gets involved. High school students can get themselves to school, but for the younger kids "it's on the parent."