Truancy law changed to cover online classes
The truancy laws used for years to prevent local students from skipping school were written long before anyone had ever heard of social distancing, before people wore facemasks to the grocery store, and long before countless students switched from in-person to virtual classes. As a result, local police recently discovered a potential loophole that essentially did not allow them to enforce truancy laws for students who are not attending virtual classes.
As a result, the Mount Horeb Village Board voted unanimously last week to revise the wording of its ordinance to extend truancy rules to online students, as well.
“This one came to us from the school district through our school resource officer,” explained village administrator Nic Owen. “They’re having some trouble getting students to attend virtually. We spoke with our village attorney. He said we’re probably okay with the language we have, but if the school [district] wanted he would recommend some new language for us, which is what we have before us today.”
The village’s public safety committee had recommended approval of the changes, as did the chief of police, Doug Vierck.
“So, the kids that are in school but don’t show up can get a truancy ticket,” Vierck told the board. “But kids that are at home virtually can’t get a truancy ticket. So it’s kind of that dichotomy there, where there’s two different opposing sides.”
“What the schools have been doing is they’ve been actually doing house calls,” he continued. “They’ve been talking to parents. They’ve been sending letters. They’ve been having the School Resource Officer go to houses, and they still have some kids that just absolutely say, ‘I will not go; I refuse.’ And so, there were a couple of kids that they wanted to issue tickets to.”
“But, when talking to the prosecuting attorney as well as the judge, there were issues with the language and the ordinance as it was, that they thought that it couldn’t actually be enforced in a virtual environment,” Vierck stated. “So, they asked that the language of the virtual rules be added to the ordinance.”
Trustee Beth Hill wanted to make sure the wording was not too draconian, given the myriad challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.
“In the middle of a pandemic, there could be family situations going on where a child isn’t going to be able to join virtually for whatever that reason, which might be different than a child going to school,” said Hill.
“So, what does that mean, an ‘acceptable’ excuse?” she asked. “How’s that determined?
“It’s actually defined in the state statute,” said Vierck. “I don’t have the exact wording, but it lists the statutes that cover that, and I know that the school would be willing to work with families and be more forgiving if they’re actually talking about acceptable excuses. This came about because there are two children that absolutely refused and told their parents, ‘I will not go.’”
According to the ordinance, which was approved unanimously, a child is prohibited from being “a habitual truant.” A pupil who is absent from school without an acceptable excuse for part or all of five or more days on which school is held during a school semester is considered a truant. The new language in the document adds a passage that explicitly lists absence from school or “from virtual school pursuant to the rules for virtual attendance and instruction adopted by the Mount Horeb Area School District without an acceptable excuse for part or all of any day on which school is held during a school semester.”