hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 17, 2013

Officials to visit homes of AWOL students

New procedures aim to reduce absences, improve students safety

By Shawn Regan
Staff Writer

---- — Some parents of public school students can expect to see a lot more of the district’s truancy officers in the coming months.

Superintendent James Scully said administrators have developed new procedures to cut down on unexcused absences and improve student safety. The procedures involve sending School Department representatives to the homes of absent students whose parents have not contacted their school.

When a student is absent from school, his or her parents are required to call their school and report the absence. There’s nothing new about that. What is new, however, is what will happen when parents don’t call.

“When a parent sends their child to school, they expect them to be there, but we know sometimes students skip,” Scully said. “But this isn’t just about getting kids in school. It’s also about us knowing where they are and making the community safer.”

Lorna Marchant, the district’s attendance supervisor, said her staff has made about 40 home visits per day since the new procedures went into effect this school year.

“If you don’t call your student in absent, we will make every attempt to contact you by phone or in person at home to ensure the well being of your child,” Marchant said. “We usually discover that parents simply forgot to call or email the school.”

Scully said the changes should improve the district’s overall attendance rates.

“We have many good kids in Haverhill, but there are also some who don’t follow the rules,” he said.

Scully said there are three or four attendance officers who work with school principals to identify and check on students with unexcused absences.

Assistant Superintendent Mary Malone said the practice of visiting homes to check on absent students isn’t meant to be punitive or to single out any family for special attention. She said “a small number of parents” have complained about the home visits, however.

Malone said she expects it to take some time for some parents to become accustomed to the new procedures.

School officials said similar policies are in effect in neighboring communities, including Methuen and North Andover.

How new attendance procedures work

Teachers take attendance in homerooms at the start of the school day, then report absences to the main office.

The list of absent students is compared against messages from parents.If there are students who are absent whose parents didn’t call, an automated call from the AlertNow system goes to the home, asking the parent to call within a half-hour to confirm the absence.

If that call isn’t returned, a school employee calls the home.

If there is no answer and still no return call, someone from the attendance department makes a home visit. If no one is at home, a letter is left stating that a School Department representative visited the home. The letter asks the parent to call the school, confirm the absence, and report receipt of the letter.

If there is no response to the letter, the child’s school is notified. At that point, the attendance office takes no further action.