PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Public school district officials in South Dakota no longer would be responsible for students in their communities who don’t attend their schools and appear to be missing classes, under a proposal moving through the South Dakota Legislature.
The House Education Committee voted on Friday to endorse HB-1191 brought by a former school superintendent, Republican Rep. Roger DeGroot.
He’s trying to address a situation related to the rise in alternative education, such as home schooling, that South Dakota has seen in the past decade: Students who don’t seem to be attending classes during the traditional school day.
“There’s really no accountability for home schooling,” DeGroot told the committee.
State enrollment reports for last fall showed 9,120 students receiving alternative education and 138,025 students in public K-12 schools. That compares to 3,514 and 126,759 in fall 2012.
Here’s the quandary. South Dakota law says school-age children must attend school or receive alternative education. Failure can mean a misdemeanor against the parent or other person in control of the child. State law further requires each school board appoint a person to serve as the truancy officer.
The specific law that DeGroot wants to change currently says, “Each truancy officer shall make and file truancy complaints, and any teacher, school officer, or any citizen may make and file a truancy complaint, before a circuit court judge, against any person having control of a child of compulsory school age who is not being provided with alternative instruction or attending school or whose attendance at school is irregular.”
He wants it to read, “Each truancy officer shall make and file truancy complaints for children who are enrolled in the school district. Any teacher, school officer, or any citizen may make and file a truancy complaint, before a circuit court judge, against any person having control of a child of compulsory school age who is not being provided with alternative instruction or attending school or whose attendance at school is irregular.”
Public education groups support the proposed change.
Rob Monson, executive director for School Administrators of South Dakota, told the committee that students are supposed to be listed as exempt on the alternative instruction list maintained by the state Department of Education.
Dianna Miller, representing the Large School Group, said student truancy was a topic during the interim study on juvenile justice. “There’s still a responsibilty for truancy, and we want to have all children educated,” she said. But, she added, “It’s not the responsibility of the public school to deal with alternative education.”
Said Wade Pogany, executive director for Associated School Boards of South Dakota, “It seems logical you can’t hold someone responsible for something they’re not responsible for.”
There was no opponent testimony.
Republican Rep. Stephanie Sauder, a retired K-12 educator, asked who should be called when it looks like a student isn’t going to school. “I’m not going to call the judge and say my neighbor kid is not in school,” Sauder said.
DeGroot, responding to a question from Republican Rep. Phil Jensen, said the call shouldn’t go to the school superintendent. “It should go to a different entity,” he said.
But who that might be wasn’t clear.
Republican Rep. Byron Callies said he has six grandchildren who are home-schooled. He raised another school activity — recess. “I’m always concerned about people making frivolous complaints about their neighbor,” Callies said.
DeGroot said he didn’t receive many truancy calls during his 27 years as a school administrator. The one case that went to a judge saw the $250 fine suspended and the mother warned that the student needed to go to school.
“Truancy is not an issue that the courts take real serious,” DeGroot said.
Republican Rep. Scott Odenbach, who’s been a school board member, called for the bill’s endorsement. “It seems like it makes common sense,” Odenbach said. “Some kids are our problem and some kids are not our problem. Let’s clear that up.”