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West Iron Schools plan crackdown on truancy

IRON RIVER—Clearly, the problem of truancy in schools is no recent phenomenon, and at least locally the dilemma seems to be getting worse.
    At its regular monthly meeting Feb. 16, the West Iron County School Board heard a report on the problem from Stambaugh Elementary School Principal Michelle Thomson.
    “What we have been doing for the past year is meeting as a county-wide truancy committee, and we’ve kicked around a lot of different plans,” Thomson said. “What’s important is the message that we’ve been given from the court system, which is that we need to crack down on kids being absent.”
    Thomson said the committee has been comprised of local law enforcement, Iron County Judge C. Joseph Schwedler, Iron County Court Chief Juvenile Officer Jennifer Cohs and both West Iron and Forest Park schools
    The entire truancy plan for all three levels of West Iron schools has not been finalized, but Thomson said some steps have begun. She said she recently sent a letter to her students’ families, explaining the importance of student attendance and punctuality. In the letter, Thomson informed the families that her school has changed its policy that any student arriving after 8:15 a.m. will be marked absent for the morning.
    Stambaugh Elementary begins its day at 7:50.
    “What I’m seeing in my building is a lot of tardiness,” Thomson said.
    Thomson said that those who arrive late are a “huge distraction” to the learning environment for students who get to school on time.
    Both Thomson and Mike Berutti, principal of the high school and middle school, have drafted warning letters that can be sent home, detailing the numbers of absences and reminding parents and guardians that according to Michigan law, they are responsible for getting their children to school regularly. A failure to do so may result in misdemeanor prosecution of the parents and/or a juvenile delinquency petition being filed against the child and potential loss of government benefits.
    Currently, students who have excessive absences can be forced to attend a Saturday detention of sorts administered by the court, where a student must work to make-up missed assignments. Parents can also be forced to attend school to make sure that their child is working to catch up and get to class on time.
    In the high school, a truancy intervention meeting with a law enforcement officer or a juvenile officer can be scheduled, and parents must attend. If they don’t, the school can seek court intervention.
    Superintendent Chris
| Thomson also weighed in.
    “The courts have told us we need to be stricter on tardies and absences. But the school code gives a lot of power to parents. And (those) don’t mesh. We can say you’re expected to be here by 8:15, and the parent can say I’ll get them there at 8:20 because that’s when I want to get them there.
    “Part of the problem that Michelle’s having is parents, and they’re good parents, have just decided that, ‘I’m going to get my son or daughter to school at 8:30 because that’s when they’re going to start the day. They don’t need to be there to listen to morning announcements and do the Pledge (of Allegiance) and eat breakfast.’’”
    Michelle Thomson reiterated that letters will be sent home regardless of whether the child is tardy or absent.
    “I probably have 40 children that have received a first warning letter, which means they are at 10 days absent.”
    She said the school can reserve the right of judgement on special circumstances, like if a child has a chronic illness such as asthma that causes inconsistent arrival time or attendance.
    “I just feel that I have a lot of parents just not getting it,” she said. “I had three families that were served papers from the Iron River Police Department (recently). It’s the law; they need to get their kids to school.”
    Chris Thomson said the issue extends beyond just the schools.    
    “We have been told by employer after employer after employer that come in here that they need to have people who get (to work) on time.”
    Earlier in the meeting, Berutti asked the board for its approval for the purchase of an automated external defibrillator for the gymnasium for approximately $1,500. The school currently has one AED that is kept in Berutti’s office.
    Berutti explained that many schools have purchased a unit for their gymnasiums to assist in cardiac-related emergencies. He said the unit is housed inside a case attached to a wall and will be positioned in such a way to allow camera security.    
    “We are always trying to make sure that our building is safe for our kids and the people that are here,” Berutti said.
    Board Member Gary Pisoni asked how many people in the school are qualified to use an AED. Berutti said district personnel, including teachers and coaches, are all certified in performing CPR. Board Member Faye Atanasoff, who is a nurse, added that anyone who has CPR training will know how to use the equipment.
    Berutti also reported that West Iron seniors will participate in a mock interview session that will be held in Kingsford on April 12. He said about 60 businesses will participate in the event, which will give students an opportunity to practice interviewing, hear what local businesses are looking for in future employees and work on resumes.
    Berutti said it’s the first time that West Iron has participated in this event that he’s aware of.
    The same day, West Iron juniors will sit for the SAT exams, while sophomores and freshmen will take the PSAT. With additional classrooms and teaching personnel needed for all these activities, Berutti asked the board to approve the day off for middle-school students.
    The board agreed to that request.
    Berutti also informed the board that a Senior Night was going to be held for the girls basketball team that evening. The boys team held its Senior Night on Feb. 26. Previously, senior nights had been discontinued, but Berutti said they will be reinstated going forward.
    “We’ll see how this goes. We may have to tweak it as we go into different sports, like if I have 15 seniors (on my football team), we might have to tweak it. Otherwise it would take forever.”
    In other board action:

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