By KATIE PESZNECKER
Anchorage Daily News
February 27, 2007
Bunde said he crafted Senate Bill 31, which will be considered during the current legislative session, to help school districts whose superintendents for years have said truancy is a major problem. When kids miss too much school, it's hard to get them caught up in classes.
Also some adults complain that juveniles are roaming around during the school day. And that, they say, is never a good idea: Not only can they get into trouble but, in today's climate, they're vulnerable to gang recruitment and all the dangers that go along with it.
"I'm sure the liberals will say, 'No, this is unfair,' " said Bunde, an Anchorage Republican. "And maybe the ultra-conservatives will say, 'This is going to cost so much.' But the ultra-conservatives are still throwing money away on bridges to nowhere. Maybe this is money better spent."
Bunde modeled SB 31 after Washington state's Becca Bill, named for Rebecca Hedman, a 13-year-old runaway who developed a crack habit, started prostituting herself and was found beaten to death in Spokane in 1993.
The murder prompted the Washington Legislature to action. In 1995, with just a single no vote, the Becca Bill passed, giving schools and courts more flexibility in punishing truants. The law set up policies to inform parents or guardians when kids miss school. After a point, the courts get involved.
This sounded good to Bunde.
"When I was a kid, if you weren't in school, a cop would stop you and say, 'Why aren't you in school?' " Bunde said. "Go to any store, any mall in the middle of the day and look at the number of young people running around. Something's wrong with the system."
Alaska's current rules on truancy are fairly simple: Parents are required to see that children ages 7 to 16 are in school - either public school, or an equivalent private school, boarding school or home school.
School districts have rules to deal with students who have one or more unexcused absences. Penalties vary, but usually involve contacting a truant student's parent or guardian, and depending on the frequency of offenses, can also involve detention or suspension.
In worst-case scenarios, parents can be fined for truant children under the state's rules. SB 31 would change that so that students could also face consequences for repeatedly missing school.
Under the bill:
- After one unexcused absence in a month, a school would notify a parent or guardian.
- After two to four unexcused absences in the same month, there's a conference with the parent or guardian.
- After seven unexcused absences in a month, or 10 in a school year, the district would petition a judge to decide whether the child should be punished and sent to juvenile detention, or whether the parents are at fault and the kid would be better off elsewhere.
Bunde has yet to figure out the cost of this system, but said there would probably need to be at least one judge assigned to truancy cases.
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