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November 1, 2011

Hon. Robert F. McDonnell
Governor of Virginia
Patrick Henry Building
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia  23219

Your Excellency,

I write to ask that you approve the Board of Education's proposed regulations to govern the collection and reporting of truancy-related data.

Background:
Richmond Ignores Code 22.1-258

Code 22.1-258 requires each school division (through an attendance officer or, where there is none, through the superintendent) to create an attendance plan for any student with five unexcused absences and to schedule a conference with the parents after the sixth absence.  The law does not merely permit this conference; it says the school "shall" schedule the conference.  The statute continues:

The conference shall be held no later than fifteen school days after the sixth absence. Upon the next absence by such pupil without indication to the attendance officer that the pupil's parent is aware of and supports the pupil's absence, the school principal or his designee shall notify the attendance officer or the division superintendent, as the case may be, who shall enforce the provisions of this article by either or both of the following: (i) filing a complaint with the juvenile and domestic relations court alleging the pupil is a child in need of supervision as defined in 16.1-228 or (ii) instituting proceedings against the parent pursuant to 18.2-371 or 22.1-262.  [emphasis and link to the AG's opinion added]

That is, if the student continues to be truant, the school is required to file a CHINS petition and/or to initiate proceedings against the parents.  However, the (required) conference is part of the prerequisite notice to the parents: No conference scheduled, no petition or proceedings.

Code 22.1-269 requires the Board of Education to enforce 22.1-258:

The Board of Education shall have the authority and it shall be its duty to see that the provisions of [the compulsory school attendance statutes, Code 22.1-254 through 22.1-269.1] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.

Code 22.1-253.13:8 authorizes the Board of Education to obtain a court order to compel a school division to meet the Standards of Quality or to comply with a plan to accomplish that end.   Code 22.1-65 authorizes that Board to fine, suspend, or remove from office a division superintendent for "sufficient cause."

Remarkably, the Board does not keep records to show whether the Virginia school divisions are meeting their obligations under 22.1-258.  They keep only a count of the number of six-absence conferences held by each division.

Richmond City posts a count of the number and percentage of elementary, middle, and high school students who were absent ten or more days.  The table is titled "Truancy Rates" so we can infer that these are ten or more unexcused absences.  As of today the table runs from 1999-00 through 2008-09 (in fact, the top table is not dated; the one just under it is 2007-08, so we can infer the top one is for the '09 school year).  Here is a summary of the data

If we believe these data (The low numbers in 2001-02 and the bogus SAT data on the Richmond Web site surely invite skepticism), there is more  information to be had by comparing them to the State's six-day truancy data:

The truancy (magenta curve) and conference (green curve) numbers are on the left axis.  The number of conferences (six absences) as a percentage of the number of truants (10 absences) is the black curve, with the numbers on the right axis.

As you see, Richmond scheduled fewer than 20% of the required conferences in 2003, '04, and '05 but improved sharply in 2006 (after this Web page blew the whistle on their lawless behavior).  I have no data as to absences beyond ten and no direct data (but see below) whether absences beyond six resulted in a trip to court in the cases where the school had scheduled the required conferences; for sure, Richmond could do nothing about the vast numbers for whom they did not schedule a conference.

The Board of Education at Last is Attending to its Duty

In July, 2006, the Richmond Superintendent met with the State Superintendent and the President of the State Board.  The PowerPoint presentation Richmond brought to that meeting showed a sharp increase in the number of conferences but was silent as to the followup requirement for enforcement, notwithstanding the ongoing fact of almost 2,000 Richmond students with ten or more absences.

Starting in 2007, Richmond held over 2.5 conferences per student who was truant 10 or more times.  The first implication of that, of course, is that Richmond was fully capable of obeying the law it ignored until 2006, at least as to the required conferences.  The second implication is that, as we would expect, the students who make it to ten days truant are less numerous (about 40%, it seems) than the number who make it just to six days.  The third implication is that the 33%+ drop in 10-day truancies that immediately followed the huge increase in 6-day conferences may reflect a causal relationship.

To the point here, the statute requires Richmond to be filing CHINS petitions or prosecuting parents over 1,800 times per year.  [Edited in 11/2012: Yet Richmond now admits filing only 47 cases in 2010 and 77 up to March 22 of 2012, both of which are minuscule compared to the nearly 1,900 ten-absence truants.]  In short, Richmond may or may not now be in compliance with the conference requirement of 22.1-258 but it surely is continuing to ignore the enforcement requirements of that law. 

In light of these data, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request for the State's data regarding Richmond's compliance with 22.1-258.  The State replied:

John:

The documents linked below and attached to this message are responsive to your October 5 FOIA regarding " public records of the VDOE and/or the Board of Education for the past five years that establish, relate to, or comment upon the City of Richmond School Board's compliance with Va. Code Section 22.1-258."

Board Approved Alternative Accreditation Plan for Richmond Alternative
http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/meetings/2011/04_apr/agenda_items/item_k.pdf

Application for 1003(g) Funding (Thompson, Boushall, Armstrong)
http://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/school_improvement/title1/1003_g/div_apps/richmond_city.pdf

Application for 1003(a) Funding (Blackwell)
http://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/school_improvement/title1/1003_a/div_apps/richmond_city.pdf

Corrective Action Plans attached for four schools above funded with 1003(g) or (a) funds

Charles B. Pyle
Director of Communications
Virginia Department of Education
Charles.Pyle@doe.virginia.gov
(804) 371-2420

The attached Corrective Action Plans are here, here, here, and here.  None of those documents, and none of the reports linked above, mentions -- much less reports -- Richmond's compliance (actually, noncompliance) with the follow-up enforcement requirements of 22.1-258.

In short, notwithstanding actual notice of Richmond's ongoing violations of the statute, the State Board of Education has utterly failed to even count Richmond's gross, ongoing violations of 22.1-258, much less to discharge its duty to compel Richmond to comply with the statute. 

Fortunately, that is not the end of the story.  Early this year, in response to a petition from me (and, probably more to the point, a federal requirement), the Board proposed regulations that mirror the requirements of Code 22.1-258 and that require the school divisions to record and report their performance under the statute.  Those regulations are in their 174th day of review in your Office.

Petition

The current situation is not sustainable.  The results include an appalling dropout rate and a dismal rate of graduation from the Richmond Public Schools, as well as a dearth of information that leaves the Board with an excuse for its failure to enforce 22.1-258.

Doubtless, if the Board were attentive to its duties under Code 22.1-269 it would be acting to cure Richmond's outrageous failure to comply with 22.1-258.  Doubtless also, the Board will continue to ignore its duty until the last excuse has been removed.

Governor, please approve this regulation and demand that the Board expedite its adoption and enforcement.

 

John Butcher

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