When Will Virginia Re-start Enforcement of Truancy Laws?

Really? That’s the policy?

by James C. Sherlock

COVID has interrupted the enforcement of Virginia’s truancy statute (Code of Virginia  § 22.1-254. Compulsory attendance required).  

The purpose of that law is offered by Virginia Department of Education regulations.

Students who attend school regularly beginning in kindergarten are more likely to succeed academically. Academic achievement, especially in math, is affected by attendance. Moreover, student nonattendance affects standardized test scores, graduation rates, and dropout rates.

The law requires:

“every parent, guardian, or other person in the Commonwealth having control or charge of any child … shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, cause such child to attend a public school or a private, denominational, or parochial school or have such child taught by a tutor or teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board of Education and approved by the division superintendent, or provide for home instruction of such child as described in § 22.1-254.1”.

That law also directs that a school board shall excuse from attendance at school for either of only two reasons:

“1. Any pupil who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school. For purposes of this subdivision, “bona fide religious training or belief ” does not include essentially political, sociological or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code; and

2. On the recommendation of the juvenile and domestic relations district court of the county or city in which the pupil resides and for such period of time as the court deems appropriate, any pupil who, together with his parents, is opposed to attendance at a school by reason of concern for such pupil’s health, as verified by competent medical evidence, or by reason of such pupil’s reasonable apprehension for personal safety when such concern or apprehension in that pupil’s specific case is determined by the court, upon consideration of the recommendation of the principal and division superintendent, to be justified.”

No instruction — truancy — is not an option. In fact, law enforcement officers and attendance officers are charged by the Code of Virginia to pick up any truant child and deliver that child to school.

But state and local responses to COVID made the laws unenforceable.

  • Virginia school districts were closed to in-person instruction in the last months of school year 2019-2020. Truancy laws were not enforced effectively for remote learners who could beat the system by turning off video of their participation;
  • Schools districts in 2020-2021 let parents (and teachers) choose between in-person or remote attendance. Many stayed closed for most of that school year. Those that have re-opened to in-person instruction seem mostly to have left parental and teacher choice in place. Truancy laws continued to be unenforced; and
  • There is talk of leaving that choice in place for the 2021-2022 school year.

Matt Jones of the Daily Press wrote an excellent investigative story about widespread truancy from Newport News public schools since their reopening for in-person instruction.

He wrote of Calvin Griffiths, an 11th grader at Warwick High. He returned excited to get back and to see his friends.  

“But most classrooms were nearly empty — his biggest class had just three students. One was just him and the teacher.”

“On the first day of hybrid learning at Warwick, only 189 students came to in-person classes, according to data from the school district. The enrollment was 1,591 as of Sept. 31, according to state numbers.”

Later in that story:

… “But in many districts, particularly urban ones, many students have opted out of in-person learning. An even smaller percentage is coming to in-person class.”

So, even kids whose parents opted for in-person learning are not showing up. 

It is time to restore compliance with Virginia law to give children a chance to succeed in life.

Governor, I know they don’t vote, but is next school year going to be an “emergency” situation requiring continued suspension of children’s right to an education?

Virginia also needs to hear from its Attorney General on what the law requires.   Based on his past performance and reliance on the left for campaign funding, that is highly unlikely, but would be welcome.

The fecklessness of politicians who chose the preferences of some teachers and some parents over the education needs of Virginia’s children will prove the longest term and most destructive result of COVID.

It needs to stop.  Now.

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15 responses to “When Will Virginia Re-start Enforcement of Truancy Laws?”

  1. Anonymous Bosch Avatar
    Anonymous Bosch

    I’m sure that truancy is considered a victimless crime and therefore enforcement is racist. It would be better to decriminalize truancy and them completely legalize it in 3 years.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I know you are being facetious, but you raise a point worth making. Failure to enforce truancy laws adversely effects black children and their education in far greater percentages than their numbers in the population.

      1. Anonymous Bosch Avatar
        Anonymous Bosch

        Well it only makes sense to apply their logic to other laws that are routinely flouted. But honestly, if the government isn’t going to enforce their own laws, then they should get rid of them.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          How many of them?

          1. Anonymous Bosch Avatar
            Anonymous Bosch

            How many grains of sand are on the beach? How many stars in the sky?
            How many pointless, redundant, and unenforceable laws are on the books at the local, state, federal level in the U.S.?

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            At the Fed? It’s only estimated that there are 10s of 1000s of laws (high 10s). They’re important because they can’t win a case based on them, but they can enrich a lawyer and punish you at the same time.

          3. Anonymous Bosch Avatar
            Anonymous Bosch

            It’s important for a citizen of a free nation to understand that he can’t actually understand the law that he’s not aware that he’s broken. I’m pretty sure this is why God gave us lawyers and the right to remain silent.

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Now, if only He would give us the ability.

  2. I am in a Microsoft Teams meeting of all the teachers in my grade as this email announcing this new blog post came to me.

    What is being discussed is the elaborate list of codes for absenteeism we must enter into a website at the beginning of every class.

    We have to check on which students are here, both in a physical class and then online, since teaching is now hybrid.

    There are codes for being late, not coming at all, etc. etc.

    This uses up a lot of time that should be used teaching. Especially when you send repeated “calls” or invites to the online students who have not shown up yet. (I send repeated calls because Microsoft Teams is buggy, with kids unable to find the link to get into their class, and with kids sometimes thrown out of their online class by the software.)

    As the government has now decided students can be 3 feet apart and do not need to be 6 feet apart, we had virtual (online) students return to “hybrid” last week and more this coming week, as the school decided it could physically house more students.

    New codes are being created for coding a student who should be in school physically but instead stays home and logs on virtually. This will not be counted as being present.

    None of this coding and checking and calling and counting teaches any student any reading. writing, or arithmetic.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      It should not be a teacher’s job to do that. God knows the system has enough administrators to handle that job.

      1. Paul Sweet Avatar
        Paul Sweet

        Administrators are not there to actually help teachers. They are just there to make sure the teachers fill in all the forms and do all the other (non-teaching) chores that the administrators want them to do.

        1. Maybe some of both; also there may be a lot of variation by individual. I suspect “administrators” and other non-teachers are more toxic – and expensive – at the university level, where I personally believe federal largesse fed their expansion, and they now busy themselves enforcing speech codes and correct think and other noxious projects.

  3. Matt Hurt Avatar
    Matt Hurt

    Many courts effectively stopped enforcing mandatory school attendance years before the Covid pandemic. While there seem to be some judges that take this serious, it seems that others don’t put a lot of teeth to this law. Now that being said, what should be done about this is well above my paygrade, but a bunch of teachers and administrators I know don’t put a lot of faith in the courts to bring kids to school.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Virginia needs a revised, uniform, and strict attendance policy. Our schools are all over the place with this one simple requirement. Take for example Fauquier. Very strict attendance policy and it reflects in the attendance records.

    Then examine page 22 for Petersburg High School. It is a joke and the attendance records are unacceptable.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Ignorance is bliss, and there are those who will never let you make them unhappy.

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