RD392 - Study of Truancy & School Dropout Prevention - October 2010

Executive Summary:
This study originated at the Commission on Youth’s April 23, 2008, meeting, during which the Commission adopted a two-year plan to study truancy and dropout prevention in Virginia. Specifically, the Commission was to study the provisions set forth in House Bill 1263 (Appendix A), to include a review of policies and procedures that address truancy and dropout prevention, including enforcement of compulsory attendance laws.

As part of the study, the Commission established an Advisory Group consisting of stakeholder representatives, including members of the Commission, the Virginia Department of Education, law enforcement and court agencies, child and family advocacy groups, and parent organizations. Although students were not official members of the Advisory Group, the Commission sought student input by inviting youth to speak at Advisory Group meetings and roundtables. A full list of the Advisory Group members is included as Appendix B.

At its December 3, 2008 meeting, the Commission on Youth approved the following recommendations from the first year of the study:

Recommendation 1
Request the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to offer guidance in the "Student Conduct Policy Guidelines" to school divisions regarding options other than suspension or expulsion for instances of tardiness or attendance.

Recommendation 2
Amend the Code of Virginia to prohibit the use of suspension in instances of tardiness or attendance.

Recommendation 3
Monitor the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008 which includes an amendment to strengthen the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) requirement by eliminating the Valid Court Order exception.

Recommendation 4
Request the Chair of Commission on Youth write a letter to the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia to encourage training for Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judges that addresses their ability to court-order services for families in truancy cases prior to initiation of other remedies.

Recommendation 5
Request Commission on Youth to conduct a study/gap analysis of career and technical educational (CTE) options available in the Commonwealth. This study will also include when it is most effective to identify career and technical options. Potential linkages with the Tobacco Commission, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, the Community College system and the Virginia Workforce Council for workforce training will also be explored, along with the "Jobs for Virginia Graduates" program. Commission on Youth staff will apply for relevant funding opportunities.

Recommendation 6
Request the Virginia Board Of Education (BOE) to issue guidance to school divisions regarding the unintended consequences of attendance policies which may keep students from returning to school.

Recommendation 7
Commission on Youth to meet with both students and parents to request their input in this study effort. These meetings will begin immediately and continue in the second year of the study.

At its December 7, 2009, meeting, the Commission on Youth approved the following recommendations from the second and final year of the study:

Recommendation 1
Support VDOE’s efforts in the development of a definition for truancy and request VDOE update Commission on Youth on the status of efforts to address truancy prior to the 2011 General Assembly Session.

Recommendation 2
Request VDOE to provide an update on the development of regulations for reporting of student absences and associated attendance policies. Such an update will occur prior to the 2011 General Assembly Session.

Recommendation 3
Request the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, Virginia School Board Association, Virginia Alternative Educators Association, the Virginia Parent-Teacher and Parent-Teacher-Student Associations (PTA/PTSA), Virginia School Counselors Association, the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards include information on effective programs which reduce truancy of elementary school-aged youth at their annual conferences and trainings.

Recommendation 4
Request the Virginia PTA/PTSA work with its membership and parents of elementary school students to establish approaches, including the development of business partnerships, which are helpful in conveying to parents the benefits of school attendance at the elementary school level.

Recommendation 5
Encourage school divisions to include in all of their truancy prevention programs evidence-based practices for early intervention at the elementary level, with focus on effective school engagement, the establishment of community partnerships and methods to engage students and parents in the school community.

Recommendation 6
Encourage school divisions to develop mechanisms, such as Student Assistance Programming, for identifying students who may need additional school or community supports and direct them and their families to the appropriate services.

Recommendation 7
Encourage stakeholder organizations to contact Virginia’s Congressional Delegation to request that the State Grants portion of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities (SDFSCA) be reinstated in the federal budget.

Recommendation 8
Request that the Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Criminal Justice Services include in future trainings clarification on information-sharing between school resource officers, court service units and law enforcement.

Recommendation 9
Encourage the Department of Juvenile Justice to establish guidelines for court services units on how best to expedite resolution of truancy matters and to include expectations for Court diversion programs truancy cases.

Recommendation 10
Amend Section 22.1-258 of the Code of Virginia to give more flexibility to local school divisions by consistently stating that “the school principal, his designee or the attendance officer” is responsible for notifying the parent; making direct contact with the parent; and developing a student’s attendance plan.

Recommendation 11
Request the School Board Association to work with local school boards and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to encourage them to review their current practices and policies related to attendance and that they share effective attendance practice and policies.

Recommendation 12
Support alternative education opportunities for students who have been long-term suspended or expelled.

Recommendation 13
Encourage cross-district collaboration to expand alternative education options for students.

Recommendation 14
Support distant and virtual learning programs for remediation efforts or credit recovery that adheres to the provisions of the Virginia Board of Education’s "Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia."

Recommendation 15
Support paid career or on-the-job training opportunities for high school students which allow students to earn credits for their participation.

Recommendation 16
Support the maintenance and record keeping of those students who are long-term suspended or expelled who are referred to alternative education placements in order to track their success in completing the requirements for graduation.

Recommendation 17
Request the Governor’s Office of Substance Abuse Prevention to collaborate across multiple agencies, including the possibility of a university collaboration, for the purpose of developing a website dedicated to prevention and intervention, as well as school dropout prevention and intervention.

Recommendation 18
Request the Virginia PTA and Virginia Education Association develop parent support materials that could be used to help educate parents about dropout risk factors, early indicators, prevention strategies, and available community resources.

Recommendation 19
Encourage divisions/regions to establish volunteer parent support groups.

Recommendation 20
Request that Virginia’s Parent Resource Centers include information on their websites and in mailings on the factors that place children at-risk of dropping out of school and the options which might be available to help reduce that risk.

Recommendation 21
Request the Department of Education brief the Commission on Youth in the summer of 2010 on its work in addressing truancy and school dropout prevention, to include changes addressed in the Board’s "Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia" and other technical assistance efforts identified by the Department.

Recommendation 22
Encourage on-going professional development to include training on dropout prevention. Training could include early indicators of dropout risk, techniques for developing protective factors in children, classroom and behavior management, and best practices in dropout prevention.

Recommendation 23
Encourage school divisions to provide more cross-training between educators and agencies involved in youth and family services, including agencies that support families in crisis.

Recommendation 24
Encourage school divisions to consider the implementation of evidence-based programs that provide training for classroom and behavior management and that help staff know how to identify and serve students most at-risk of dropping out of school.

Recommendation 25
Encourage school divisions to consider the implementation of student assistance programming which provide wraparound services to students in need.

Recommendation 26
Direct the Commission on Youth to include in its final report on the Study of Truancy and Dropout Prevention information on the Department of Education’s actions in 2009 to inform school divisions of 140-hour seat rule.