Ohio bill would revamp how schools deal with truancy

A bill introduced in the Ohio House this month would change the approach that Ohio schools take to tackle chronic truancy among students. The Columbus Dispatch reports that HB 410, sponsored by Reps. Jeff Rezabek and Bill Hayes, would shift the focus from punishment to identifying the underlying causes of truancy and attempting to fix them. The bill would require courts to utilize diversion programs, holding criminal complaints for truancy in abeyance until the student has the opportunity to complete the program.

It would set up a process for districts to follow, including notifying parents, referring a student to an intervention team that would establish an intervention plan to keep the child in school, and utilizing a diversion program. The intervention team would include a school administrator, a teacher and the child's parent or guardian. It could also include a school psychologist, counselor or social worker or worker from a nonprofit designed to help children stay in school.

The bill would also prohibit school boards from punishing truancy with suspension, expulsion or other measures that would keep students out of school. The bill is a step towards decriminalizing certain aspects of misbehavior that ultimately keeps students from the positive environment school provides. The Dispatch reports that Senator Peggy Lehner, Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee in Ohio, plans to propose legislation this winter that would revamp Ohio's zero tolerance policy, with a goal of keeping kids in school and using alternative methods of discipline.