The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly votes tonight on an ordinance that reworks the school district’s truancy policy. The new policy appoints a truancy officer, and implements penalties that are less strict than state law.
The Fairbanks school district currently adheres to a statewide truancy policy, where parents face a $500 fine, a misdemeanor or court appearance if their children have five or more unexcused absences. Borough assembly Presiding Officer Karl Kassel says that policy is ineffective.
"We’re just creating such a monster with the whole process that it’s not functioning as it should. It’s not really encouraging students to get into the classroom, it’s not really encouraging parents to work on the issue," he said.
Kassel is co-sponsoring a proposed ordinance he says improves the process by making it more lenient, allowing the district to set reasonable goals for students who miss school. Under the state’s policy, fines can be waived, but that requires a full year of perfect attendance. The proposed borough policy excuses fines if a student goes two months without an absence.
Kassel says reaction to his proposal has been mixed. “I’ve gotten report from a lot of parents that think that this is some sort of a new, heavy-handed program. They don’t realize that there already exists state law, and that it’s actually more onerous than what this new ordinance is," he said.
“It’s basically a warning because if you get your student back into the classroom, there’s no fine, there’s no further action. We actually forgive it," said Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins, who is also co-sponsoring the ordinance. He agrees there are misconceptions.
“We get people that say ‘I’m going to take my child on a vacation if I want to’. Well, yes, you can. You just have to say to the school ‘I’m taking my child out for a vacation’. Ok, that’s an excused absence. The school district knows where that child went," he said.
The proposed ordinance allows the district superintendent to appoint a truancy officer who can write citations. Issuing citations is currently handled by the borough legal department. If the ordinance passes, that responsibility will go to an existing school district employee.
Karl Kassel says his intention is to give students an incentive to go to school. “It’s more of a carrot and less of a stick than the existing situation," he said.
If it passes, the ordinance will not affect students who are homeschooled or those who attend private schools.