DA announces truancy initiative

Mar. 4—District 22 District Attorney Erik Johnson announced this week a renewed truancy initiative spearheaded by his office that he said is aimed at reducing the truancy rates across all school districts in Pontotoc, Seminole, and Hughes counties.

"This is an issue that I campaigned on and is very near and dear to my heart," Johnson said in a press release.

"Education is a cornerstone upon which a successful life is built, and in order to build one must be present."

Johnson said chronic absenteeism has been identified by the Oklahoma Department of Education as one of the greatest challenges to both school districts and individual students.

Studies have shown that if a student misses even just two days a month, they are missing 60 hours of reading and 30 hours of math instruction for the year, which is crucial to academic success, Johnson said.

During the early elementary years, students missing consistent instruction are at risk of falling behind in their studies, which impacts future learning.

"There is a direct correlation between chronic absenteeism and high school dropout rates," Johnson said.

"Additionally, school funding is tied in many instances to the daily attendance rate, so this is a double-edged sword when you have truancy issues in a household — both the school and the child suffers."

The truancy effort will begin in the last three months of the 2022-2023 school year, with outreach to all District 22 superintendents and building principals.

"I took office Jan. 3, and it took me the first several weeks to get my feet on the ground, orient my new staff, and get through some looming trial issues," Johnson said. "I wanted to announce this push before this school year was any further along, to allow parents an opportunity to become familiar with how my office will be handling truancy issues in the 2023-2024 school year."

Along with outreach to area educators and administrators, the District Attorney's Office will be sending truancy notification letters to parents that have truancy issues in their household, according to Johnson.

He said if truancy issues remain systemic after this initial warning letter, then criminal charges of Violation of the Compulsory Education Act will be filed, and the parents of the truant child will be brought before the court.

The court appearance will be on a truancy docket that will resume in Pontotoc County in April of 2023, and truancy issues in Seminole and Hughes will be collected and docketed on a special docket if the numbers allow, Johnson said.

The penalty for violating the Compulsory Education Act is up to five days in the county jail, and/or a $50 fine for each unexcused absence after parents have received a warning.

After a truancy conviction is received, the penalty increases. Students ages 15 1/2 and older could also have their driver's license or permit revoked for truancy.

"I believe I have a responsibility to every child in District 22, and this is a responsibility I take very seriously," Johnson said. "I want our district's children to have every opportunity for success both now and in the future, and they have to be in school on a regular, consistent basis to receive the benefits of a good education."

Chickasaw Nation

On a related note, the Chickasaw Nation Legislature has passed legislation establishing a truancy court which was approved Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby and will go into effect April1.

Under the new rules, it will be "unlawful for a parent, guardian, or custodian having custody of a chiId who is over the age of 5 years, and under the age of 18 years, to neglect or refuse to cause or compel such child to attend and comply with the rules of some public, private, or other School, unless other means of

education are provided for the full term the schools of the district are in session or the child is excused as otherwise provided for in the Chickasaw Nation Code."

Anyone who violates the section, upon conviction, will be guilty of a misdemeanor, and will be punished.

The following was included in the legislation:

There is hereby established a Chickasaw Nation Healing to Wellness Court under Title 5, Chapter 3, Article B, of the Chickasaw Nation Code known as the "Chickasaw Nation Truancy Court."

Policies and procedures, and amendments to such policies and procedures as necessary, to improve the attendance or conduct of a Child in School will be developed.

Definitions — Except as otherwise provided for herein, defined terms used in this Article shall have the meaning ascribed to them in Title 6, Section 6-301.3.

"School" means the state-supported public school district within which the Child resides or receives a valid school transfer; a private school or extension program approved either under the Chickasaw Nation Code or State law; or a home-based instructional program as authorized pursuant to Oklahoma law, or approved under the Chickasaw Nation Code, designed to allow the Child and Parent, Guardian, or Custodian to administer to the unique needs of the Child.

School attendance

Any Child who is over the age of five (5) years, and under the age of eighteen (18) years, is compelled to attend and comply with the rules of some public, private, or other School, unless other means of education are provided for the full term the Schools of the district are in session or the Child is excused.