The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 21, 2012

School attendance numbers shocking to say the least


The Register-Herald

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Imagine walking into a high school class with an enrollment of 30 and finding only about 11 students showing up for studies that day.

That would be a staggering number of absentees.

Unfortunately, this scene would not misrepresent the shocking attendance rates at at least one Fayette County school.

Last week, we found out from a report given at the county commission meeting that 603 of 981 Oak Hill High School students were considered habitual truants during the last academic year.

Further, 41 percent of students missed more than 10 days and 19 percent missed more than 20 days. In fact, the number of truants at Oak Hill has been increasing for the past three years.

While the truants may not be missing the same day or the same class, they’re definitely not receiving an adequate educational experience by skipping school.

A new program designed to combat Fayette County’s truancy problem was announced at the commission meeting. It will create a Community Truancy Board of about 15 to 21 members that will hold its own hearings for truant youth, rather than prosecute them in court and establish a criminal record.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has awarded $42,960 for three years to the Fayette County Board of Education to implement the program.

Fayette County Schools Superintendent Keith Butcher and Center of Hope Executive Director Bill Sohonage presented the plan to the commission, which agreed to be the “pass-through” administrator of the grant.

While this may smell like an attempt to throw money at a problem, something must be done.

The “Spokane Model” was chosen to implement in Fayette. In Washington state, a similar area with 40-50 percent truancy rates was knocked down to about eight percent.

Community involvement is also needed.

Parental involvement is crucial.

Responsibility for our youth cannot fall solely on our school boards.

These numbers are unacceptable and, frankly, unbelievable.

The best chance for our youth is to stay in school and get an education.

Truancy leads to dropouts in some cases.

And while not all truants are drug addicts, most drug addicts and prisoners in the penal system were once dropouts or truants.

It doesn’t lead down a good path.  

We salute Fayette County for recognizing the truancy issue and getting down to business to eliminate it, perhaps saving some young lives.

We must do all we can to guide our youth down a productive path.