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Kanawha's year-round-school principals want judges to force truants into class

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The principals of Kanawha County's two year-round schools implored local judges to force students who serially skip class to take catch-up classes also known as intercessions as part of the county's anti-truancy initiative.

"It is much easier to ask judges who deal with truancy and attendance to use leverage to get kids to come to these intercessions," said Steven Knighton, principal of Piedmont Elementary School. "As part of your consequence for being truant, you go to intercession. It's an easy remedy."

Across Kanawha County, more than a quarter of all students missed five or more days of school without an excuse last year, according to data from the West Virginia Department of Education. About 8 percent of students in the county were truant 10 or more days.

In Kanawha County, students are considered truant after they have missed five days of class with no parent or doctor's note.

Knighton said that it is truant students and students with behavioral issues who often benefit the most from school intercessions, but there is currently no way to ensure those students come to school to get extra tutoring and class help.

"Some of the brightest kids I have come to the intercessions," said Knighton. "But it's the truant kids and kids with behavior problems who don't come to school on a regular basis. And we currently can't force them to come to intercessions when they really need it."

At a meeting of the Kanawha County school board on Monday, the principals of Piedmont Elementary and West Side Elementary touted the benefits of a year-round calendar in increasing student attendance, but admitted they were having problems getting students who have fallen behind or have discipline issues to come to voluntary "intercessions" when school is out.

"In some cases, we only had five or six students coming to the intercessions," said Mellow Lee, principal of West Side Elementary School. "We would like to have intercessions and if there is any way that judges could put that as part of their requirements for truancy, that would be wonderful for us."

As part of their year-round calendar, both Piedmont and West Side Elementary offer classes for nine weeks followed by a three-week break. The schools use the first week of that break to offer enrichment and make-up classes for any interested students. 

Lee said West Side tried to have intercessions, but due to the low turnout rate, opted to do an after-school tutoring program instead. If the funds are available, however, she said she wanted to go back to an intercession system to help close the achievement gap at her school.

Ron Duerring, superintendent of Kanawha County Schools, said intercessions were important in getting students up to speed on course material, but "we can't force kids to come to school," he said. "There needs to be teeth in the legislation to make that happen."

Kanawha County's circuit courts began a major anti-truancy initiative spearheaded by the state Supreme Court last year. Chief Circuit Judge Duke Bloom was a major point man for the anti-truancy initiative and said he was always willing to make changes to the program to suit the needs of schools. 

"We had an end-of-the-year review with school officials and I think generally they thought everybody was making inroads," said Bloom. "Have we solved the problem yet? No. But we're making progress and always talking to school officials to improve."

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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