It's difficult to teach students if they're not coming to school, say educators of the Moffat County School District.
That's one reason why the district's Board of Education approved new language on its attendance policy at a board meeting last week.
Previously, students at Moffat County High School could be absent up to 30 minutes until they were considered tardy, but school board members knocked that down to 15 minutes.
While many students already believed the limit was set at 15 minutes, the change formalized the policy to give it more teeth, high school Principal Jane Krogman said.
"I have a feeling some students pushed the 30-minute limit," she said.
According to state law any student with four unexcused absences in one month or 10 in one school year is considered "habitually truant."
After that point, district officials call a meeting with the student's parent and review the reasons for the absences.
Excessive absences may result in the district taking legal action to ensure a child stays in school, even holding parents liable if the child continues to skip school. That step is the last in a five-step procedure to handle truant students.
In the last two years, the district has taken four or five students and their parents to court after a child continued to skip school following district intervention, said Superintendent Pete Bergmann.
Those legal fees cost the district from $500 to $1,000 per case, he estimated.
"On the one hand we hate to spend the money, but on the other, making sure a child gets an education is a priority," Bergmann said. "Their education is important, so is attendance in those classes."
Every student the district loses because of truancy or other reasons represents a $5,511 hit. That is the funding reimbursement the district receives for each student.
Often students resort to home schooling if truancy becomes an issue. But if a student is identified as habitually truant before quitting public school, the district can hold students to complete a higher level of home-schooled work.
Moffat County principals are currently compiling data on schools' absentee rates, Bergmann said.
Overall absentee rates at the high school have remained stable over the past few years. In the two school years of 2001 and 2002, 93.8 percent of students were recorded present, according to school records. Last year, that number dipped slightly recording 93.6 percent students present.
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.