By Susan C. Stone and Ashley Fuchs
Far too many students create their own academic calendars by taking excessive and unexcused breaks from school. Such unauthorized behavior has been criminalized in Ohio until very recently- House Bill 410 modifies various aspects of Ohio education law, and now seeks to fix, rather than punish, excessive absences and truancy.
H.B. 410, which took effect on April 6, 2017, was passed in an effort to decriminalize truancy in Ohio. Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, several changes to the old truancy laws will take effect. The Bill explicitly decriminalizes truancy, prohibits schools from suspending or expelling students for their truant behavior, and aims to target the root of the problem behind chronic student absences. The highlight of H.B. 410 is the alternative it puts in place of utilizing the court system to deal with truant students- intervention plans. The Bill pushes a district or school to develop an absence intervention team to create specialized absence intervention plans for students who are repeatedly truant. Rather than passing such students on to the court system for punishment, schools are now urged to take a hands-on approach with these intervention plans by incorporating both academic and non-academic support to help students change their truant habits before complaints are ever filed. However, if a student subsequently refuses to participate in, or fails to make progress on, the intervention plan, the school attendance officer must file a complaint in juvenile court no later than 60 days after the intervention plan was put in place.
The propositions in H.B. 410 are likely to be effective in encouraging consistent school attendance. Although truant students can no longer be suspended or expelled for their absences, this change will prevent the undesired outcome of even more missed school. Further, the plans set out by H.B. 410 will aim to seek early intervention into truancy in an attempt to encourage students to overcome their truant habits and avoid the court system on this account altogether. Overall, this Bill appears to be taking a positive step towards combating truancy by promoting the objective goals behind any past or present truancy law- getting (and keeping) students back into school.