“We are cracking down on attendance,” said Will Doss, who currently chairs the task force as a representative of the Spalding Collaborative.
The task force is a step between the school system and the legal system. Its ultimate goal is to prevent cases of truant students from going before a juvenile court judge, said Doss.
For this to happen, truant students’ parents are asked to attend a task force meeting, explain the reason for the child’s unexcused absence and work on solutions to solve the problem.
Parents receive a written invitation for a scheduled day and time and when they arrive at the school district’s central office, they face a panel comprised of representatives from the Collaborative, the Griffin Police Department, the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Griffin-Spalding School System, the health department, Spalding County Juvenile Probation Office, the McIntosh Trail Community Service Board, school social workers and the Spalding County Department of Family and Children’s Services.
Doss acknowledged the intimidating effect this approach may have on parents, but he said it stresses the seriousness of the issue. Plus, he said parents find out quickly that the goal is to work together.
“We are here to help you if you are being honest with us,” is the message to parents Doss said, adding that the task force even bought an alarm clock once because the parent simply didn’t have one.
When asked what the most popular explanation or excuse the panel hears from parents of truant students is, Doss said there’s no single answer. In some cases, it’s a custody issue while in other cases it may be health issues. Whatever the problem, though, parents must take the initiative to address the problem.
“I can’t stress enough that parents take the responsibility to communicate with the schools (when is a student absent),” he said.
After listening to parents, the task force will then outline recommendations on how to improve the situation. Should the issue go to court in the future, it will be in parents’ favor if they have followed these recommendations.
The Spalding County Attendance Task Force meets with parents once a month, though between February and May, the panel may convene twice a month, depending on its case load. The written invitation parents receive does not have the power of a subpoena, but it is the last step before that.
Parents typically comply with their invitation, and thanks to the collaborative effort of the various groups involved in the task force, truancy has actually decreased in Spalding County during recent years, Doss said.
“It shows the commitment level of the organizations in our community,” he said.