Safety is our No. 1 priority

Published 3:24 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2009

As the attendance and safety director for Decatur County Schools, I would like to remind everyone that our school system is working hard to keep safety a priority to our faculty, staff and students as well as striving to improve school attendance.

Your child’s safety is our No. 1 priority!

Every two years we ask our schools to update their safety plan. These plans are submitted to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) for review and approval. This past school year, 2008-2009, GEMA certified all schools in Decatur County as having proper measures in place for safety.

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Decatur County Schools recently purchased a Crisis Communications System to help communicate with students and parents in the event of severe weather or a crisis. It is critical that you provide your child’s school your correct/current phone number in case of emergency.

Please read and familiarize yourself with the Decatur County School Attendance Initiative below:

Attendance Initiative Overview

The State Board of Education at its June 13, 2002, meeting approved the “Student Attendance Indicator” to be used by the Governor’s Office of Education Accountability to rank Georgia schools based on student attendance.

In addition, new standards for promotion and retention of students have increased the importance of children being in school every day possible. During the fall of 2003 the Decatur County School System began the School Attendance Initiative to improve student attendance.

Meetings were held with administrators and school system personnel to develop a proactive plan to address the mounting problem of school attendance. During the fall, winter and spring of 2003-2004 guidelines were developed.

Coincidentally, the Georgia State Legislature passed House Bill 1190 in the spring 2004 Legislative Session raising attendance standards and tightening attendance laws and responsibilities requiring every school system in the state of Georgia to adopt a written protocol by June 1, 2005.

The goals of the School Attendance Initiative include a review of cases of chronic absenteeism, both excused and unexcused, and excessive tardies and early dismissals. An Attendance Support Team (AST) at each school level, elementary, middle and high, will determine contributing factors to poor school attendance, and offer assistance to the family, if appropriate. The process involves monitoring excessive absences, tardies or early dismissals and making contact with parents using phone calls, letters, home visits, and/or appearances before the AST. If parents are asked to appear before the AST, a contract between the school and the parent or students can be drafted.

In the event changes do not occur within a reasonable time, a referral will be made to the Decatur County Juvenile Court or Superior Court for failure to comply with the State Compulsory Attendance Law, 20-2-690.1.

The Decatur County School System is very sympathetic to the fact that many students are absent due to illness or other legitimate causes. These are not the students that cause the school system concern. It is those students or, in some cases, parents who do not appear to value an education that we are targeting.

It is not the intent of this initiative to cause a hardship for parents; only to assist them in making sure regular school attendance is a priority. The Decatur County School System is dedicated to working with parents to improve student attendance. Our hope is that the implementation of the School Attendance Initiative will result in system-wide improvement in regards to attendance.

Be aware that all students must be in attendance—the instructional day to be counted present. Each school will provide you this information in the student handbook.

Guidelines Absences

3 unexcused or 5 excused absences—–phone call

4 unexcused or 6 excused absences—–attendance letter

5 unexcused or 7 excused absences—–social worker referral

6 unexcused or 8 total absences—–AST referral

Tardies and Early Dismissals

6 tardies or early dismissals—–phone call

7 tardies or early dismissals—–attendance letter8 tardies or early dismissals—–social worker referral9 tardies or early dismissals—–AST referral

Meetings with the Attendance Support Team (AST) may result in an “Attendance Contract” if the AST deems it necessary. The contract is reviewed with parent and/or student. All parties sign the contract. This meeting is followed with the on-going monitoring of the student’s attendance. A broken contract may result in a court referral. Failure to sign the contract at the AST meeting results in a court referral.

It is our intent to provide the best possible education for all our students and if they are missing instructional time, they cannot benefit from this education.

If you have questions or I can be of assistance, please contact me at 248-2221.

Roy C. MathewsAcademic coordinator Bainbridge High-WestsideDecatur County Schools attendance and safety director