Schuitmaker legislation aimed at combatting truancy, chronic absenteeism

LANSING, Mich. — Legislation that would update and clarify our state’s truancy laws was introduced in the state Senate on Tuesday.

“The state of Michigan currently has no across-the-board definition of truancy on the books,” said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, one of the package’s leading sponsors. “Schools have been creating their own guidelines, which has led to different interpretations even between school buildings in the same district. Our current methods are failing to keep kids in the classroom and out of courtrooms.”

Senate Bills 103-106 would define both “truancy” and “chronic absenteeism” within state law. Truancy would be defined as having a minimum of 10 unexcused absences in a school year, while chronically absent would be defined as being absent for at least 10 percent of the scheduled school days in a school year, including both excused and unexcused absences, and absences due to disciplinary reasons.

The legislation also includes preventative measures that not only seek to prevent kids from missing class, but corrective measures that seek to find the underlying problem as to why the student missed school in the first place.

“Far too often the response to low attendance is simply to suspend the students and send them home which removes them from the classroom and resources they need to be successful,” Schuitmaker said. “This does nothing to curb the issue. These bills would create consistent definitions for schools to follow and outline procedures for dealing with chronically absent and truant students.”

Data shows that as students miss more and more class time, graduation rates go down and delinquency rates go up. It is a commonly known fact that students who miss school tend to struggle academically and are more likely to drop out.

The problem is then magnified because dropouts are less likely to be employed, and are often more likely to face poverty or prison time. In fact, of the 8,800 people sentenced to prison in Michigan in 2012, 49 percent did not have a GED or high school diploma.

“When you consider that every prisoner Michigan gains costs the state about $37,500 per year, and that the average prisoner spends four years behind bars, you can see that we have a vested interest in keeping our kids in the classroom and providing them with an education,” Schuitmaker said.

In order to prevent students from missing additional class time, Schuitmaker says the bill was crafted to include provisions that prohibit a child from being suspended or expelled solely for truancy or chronic absence from school.

“The common misconception is that students miss school because they don’t want to be there, or are up to no good. The reality is students often miss school because of circumstances beyond their control such as a difficult home life or they are being bullied and don’t want to face their aggressors. I think the most important part of this legislation is looking beyond the surface and trying to understand the reasons students are missing school and attempting to fix that first.”

SBs 103-106 have been referred to the Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services.