Parents who fail to ensure their kids attend school on a regular basis could be facing charges of neglect if a series of new recommendations are adopted by the province’s Education Department.
“One of the frustrations for teachers is the limited ability they have in getting some children in school,” said Howard Windsor, who chaired an education committee tasked with looking into absenteeism in Nova Scotian schools. “They need help from other agencies of government.”
The committee, formed in May 2009, released its final report yesterday and made 13 recommendations aimed at getting wayward students back into the classroom — and keeping them there.
Aside from the proposed change to the province’s Children and Family Services Act, other suggestions included investing in better attendance tracking systems, developing a communications strategy to explain to parents and students the importance of attending class, introducing more severe penalties for chronic absenteeism, and channeling extra funds into alternative programming for at-risk students.
The committee also suggested students be forced to stay in school until age 18, two years longer than is currently required by law.
Noticeably absent, however, were any recommendations having to do with rewarding good attendance — such as offering exam exemptions.
“We felt the authority to do that already existed out there among the school boards,” explained Windsor. “For the most part, what we were looking at were things that needed policy direction … or some kind of legislative change.”
There is precious little hard data on absenteeism in the province, but Windsor said after speaking with hundreds of students, parents, teachers, principals, program directors and other experts, it became clear it’s a growing problem across all grade levels.
Education Minister Marilyn More was briefed on the recommendations in October. In a release issued yesterday, she called absenteeism “a concern across the province,” but gave no indication if the department was considering adopting any of the recommendations.