Schools fight truancy with help of new law

By Jola Szubielski - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A warning for young people across the area: if you skip school, it could soon cost you your driver's license. That law is aimed at fighting truancy in Virginia schools. It's meant to motivate teens to stay in school.

It's the day most teenagers can't way for, freedom in the form of the car keys. But with that privilege comes responsibility, which can now be used by schools across the state to fight truancy.

Truancy is a growing concern statewide and its direct affect on dropout rates. This new law is hoping to address one before it ever gets to the other.

"It allows the courts to suspend their drivers license if they have had 10 consecutive unexcused absences," said John Saunders, Department of Motor Vehicles Virginia Highway Safety spokesperson.

Statewide schools currently must report students with six unexcused absences total, to the Department of Education. Based on those numbers, in Richmond public schools for example, the truancy rate was at nine percent in 2007 to 2008, up slightly from the previous year, but a dramatic improvement from four years ago when it was almost three times as much.

The story is similar in other districts across the state. And while schools have their own preventative measures and parent conferences, some say this latest move, is yet another step in the right direction.

"One of the reasons why we find it refreshing is we're trying to come up with creative strategies to be able to deal with children. Our ultimate goal is that children come to school," said Larry Everette, Richmond Public Schools Truancy/Safe & Drug Free Schools Specialist.

And a license may just be the greatest motivator.

"The kids need to be at school, it's becoming more widespread. This is a good opportunity for them to learn that this is the consequence if you skip school. No kid wants their license suspended," parent  Shaunta Rogers said.

But there is some concern from parents who wonder if there are other, more educational ways to encourage children to stay in school.

"If you take that license away automatically without looking at the circumstance, then I think you restrict other activities, family activities, work activities that aren't related to school." parent Gigi Amateau said.

And ultimately it is up to a judge and the parent if a suspended license is a deterrent option. If a teenager's license is suspended and then they're caught driving anyway, that teen faces a year in jail or a $2,500 fine.

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