In an effort to keep students in school, Fort Wayne Community Schools has lowered the number of unexcused absences it takes before the child is labeled truant and recommended to SOCAP.
The Status Offender Court Alternative Program, or SOCAP, is a program that works with students and their families to discover the reason for the absences.
“We target what the problem is, and then we find the service in the community to help them,” said Greg Barnes, executive of the YMCA Youth Service Bureau, which runs the SOCAP program. The issues could be as wide-ranging as helping the family to get the heat turned back on or asking for the help of a relative to make sure the student wakes up in time for class.
Originally, it took 11 unexcused absences before a FWCS student was recommended for SOCAP.
The district has lowered the number to seven, with notifications going to the parents as early as the third unexcused absence.
“We wanted it to be fewer days so that it could be resolved sooner,” district spokeswoman Krista Stockman said, explaining these rules do not apply to sick children, especially in the cases of H1N1. “It's all an effort, if the children are chronically late or chronically missing school, we can get them some help.”
The district also lowered the number of times a student can be tardy from 20 to 10 days before it is considered one unexcused absence.
“We take being in school very seriously,” she said.
Other school districts in Allen County had differing guidelines, such as Northwest Allen County Schools, which set its standard at seven unexcused absences. Southwest and East Allen follow other guidelines that are based on intermediary steps and the discretion of the schools.
In the end, habitual truants can be prosecuted by the court system, but Michael McAlexander, chief deputy prosecuting attorney for Allen County, said SOCAP has kept most of those cases away from his office.
“The work that SOCAP has done over the past 10 (or more) years has really eliminated the need for formal prosecution,” he said.
“The goal is to educate the parents to know why it is so important to keep their kids in school.”