|Action||New regulations to govern the collection and reporting of truancy -related data and provide guidance on school attendance policy|
|Comment Period||Ends 12/2/2015|
Proposed Regulations Governing Unexcused Absences and Truancy
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) appreciates the opportunity to provide you with comments on the proposed revisions to the Regulations Governing Unexcused Absences and Truancy (8 VAC 20-730).
We appreciate that the draft regulations appear to at least make an initial movement in the direction of evidence-based best practices as shown in the proposed definitions of an “Attendance Plan” and a “Multidisciplinary Team” in 8 VAC 20-730-10. We particularly appreciate references to the specific factors which may contribute to a student’s attendance issues (“academic, social, emotional, and familial barriers”) and the encouragement of the use of “positive strategies” to support student attendance.
We are concerned, however, that that some of the proposed changes appear to reduce already existing local flexibility and may create significant new financial and administrative paperwork burdens on school divisions without any associated resources.
The term “face-to-face” is used at least twice in the draft document, both in the definition of “attendance conference” and in 8 VAC 20-730-20 in reference to the requirement to hold an attendance conference after six unexcused absences. Our concern is that the very specific use of this term appears to reduce the flexibility of school divisions to conduct attendance conferences, particularly through the use of technology (e.g. teleconferences, the use of internet-based solutions such as GoToMeeting, etc.). Eliminating the specific reference to a “face-to-face” meeting would help school divisions better and more flexibly connect with parents and allow for creative solutions to accommodating everyone’s busy schedules.
We are also very concerned about the potential impact of the proposed new section 8 VAC 20-730-30 regarding required data collection and reporting. This section significantly increases the volume of administrative paperwork faced by school divisions in addressing attendance issues while the impact that data collection might have on the work of actually addressing attendance issues at the local level is unclear. We do recognize the interest in collecting systematic data. However, we fear that these substantial paperwork increases – particularly without any increases in resources – will divert the attention of already severely limited personnel toward compliance with reporting requirements rather than allowing them to keep their focus on attendance best practices, such as using their time to connect with students and their families.
We understand that proposed regulatory changes do not occur in a vacuum and are constrained by existing Code language (in this case, §22.1-258). However, it is exactly that Code language which leads to a final observation about the draft regulations. The underlying Code governing attendance and truancy relies very heavily on court-based and punishment-oriented interventions and contains rigid and unrealistic timelines for interventions, with significant (and different) interventions required after the fifth, sixth and seventh unexcused absence. Because current Code is so rigid and strays so far from current evidence-based best practices, it fundamentally constrains the usefulness of regulatory change to affect real reform by limiting a school division's ability to address the root causes of truant behavior or to implement “positive strategies”.
Just as an example, the draft regulations require the creation of an attendance plan after the fifth unexcused absence, as specified by Code. But instead of allowing time for that plan’s implementation or for any sort of evaluation of a student’s progress toward addressing issues identified by the plan, the regulations (again in compliance with Code) require additional significant interventions after only a single additional unexcused absence. One more unexcused absence beyond that potentially triggers a court petition and legal intervention. Simply put, this timeline is fundamentally flawed and undermines the potential usefulness of the required attendance plan by giving it little to no time to actually work. Unless the underlying Code constraints are addressed, regulatory changes will be of limited worth in truly moving student attendance policies in school divisions toward evidence-based best practices.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment and for your consideration.