Attendance Policy Makes a Wrong Turn
By Deborah Yi, PHLO Intern, 2007-2008
— Deborah Yi is a senior at Seneca Valley High School and the Editor in Chief of The Talon, SVHS School Newspaper. She is completing a year-long internship at PHLO.
Truant students will be denied driving privileges if a new bill passes in the Maryland General Assembly – permitting the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to punish students unfairly and inappropriately.
The bill, which passed the House of Delegates and the Senate Judiciary Committee in March and will soon be heard by the entire State Senate, would prohibit students with 10 or more unexcused absences in one calendar year from obtaining a driver’s license the following year, and would require school districts to report all unexcused absences to the MVA. Legislators removed a provision in the bill that would have also suspended students’ existing licenses for truancy. What an administrative nightmare!
Although the bill’s proponents are justified in attempting to boost attendance rates, they seem to overlook the simple reason the MVA is currently unaffiliated with the state education system: There is no logical connection between driving and getting an education. Poor students are not necessarily poor drivers. Students who skip class do not necessarily use their cars to do so: additionally students who repeatedly skip class will continue to do so whether or not they have access to a car.
Furthermore, while supporters of the bill point out that students who skip class are more likely to vandalize property, steal vehicles or rob homes, taking away these students’ driver’s licenses will not necessarily deter them from committing crimes, given their already established propensity for disregarding authority. The bill is an arbitrary punishment – one completely unfit for the crime.
To effectively combat truancy, lawmakers should limit punishments for students who skip class to those carried out by the school system. At Seneca Valley High School, administrators have effectively enforced a detention policy that dramatically reduced tardiness. Last year, Seneca Valley began making automated phone calls to parents when their children are marked absent or tardy in any class.
Other schools would do well to adopt similar initiatives meant to deter students from skipping. Enforcing attendance policies from within the school system will be more efficient than relying on a separate governmental organization (the MVA) to punish truant students.
If the bill passes, students with poor attendance may even drop out of high school – allowed after age 16 in Maryland – so that the MVA can no longer deny them a license based on their attendance records.
While dropping out just to avoid losing driving privileges may seem like a drastic move, students with 10 or more unexcused absences may have already lost credit in several classes. The proposed law could mean such students would lose the initiative to retake failed classes, especially when they would need to find a ride to evening school because they don’t have a license. Students affected by the proposed law would be subjected to a completely nonsensical policy. They would lose driving privileges for breaking school rules that have nothing to do with driving, under a law enforced by a non-educational body that can’t get a driver’s license renewed in two hours.