NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA) — An Arkansas Student Discipline report performed by the Office of Education Policy shows that 76 school districts across the state have truancy incidents resulting in out of school suspensions.
Eight schools in Northwest Arkansas were on this list.
In March 2013, the Arkansas legislature approved Act 1329.
It makes it illegal for schools to punish children who miss too much by giving them out-of-school suspension, ultimately causing them to miss more school.
Dr. Johanna Thomas, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Arkansas, has studied the lifelong effects of early childhood truancy since 2006.
“They fall behind. They’re more likely to be held back or retained a grade. They’re more likely to eventually drop out,” Thomas said.
She says kids missing too much class is often not the child’s fault.
“It’s really hard to enforce,” Thomas said.
One school in Pea Ridge, Springdale., Van Buren, Bentonville, Fayetteville, Eureka Springs, and two schools in Siloam Springs had at least five truancy incidents in the 2016/2017 school year that resulted in-out-of-school suspensions.
Siloam Springs Administration Superintendent Ken Ramey says not all of the data from the office of education policy is accurate, but the state has made them aware of it.
“Some of it is coding errors, that you have to code in what your discipline are and there’s different codes,” Ramey said. “We have cleaned it up. We don’t have any this year, and obviously we need to do a better job of how we enter our data in our coding system for discipline.”
The Springdale School District also disputes the data, telling KNWA that in the past five years they didn’t find a single instance where a student was punished with a suspension for missing class.
A spokesperson for the Bentonville School District released this statement:
“Our building administrators are in compliance with state law. Any report to the contrary includes data gathered immediately after this legislation passed as we worked to educate our principals of those new expectations.”
Fayetteville Schools told us the following:
“Thank you taking time to visit with me about this data. I apologize for any confusion. I do have reason to believe that our assistant principals at Fayetteville High School and the alternative high school (ALLPS) are using the term “truancy” in discipline reports to include such incidents as cutting class during the school day, leaving campus for lunch and other incidents involving students not being where they are assigned to be during the school day on a closed campus. These incidents would not be considered “unexcused absences” under the Board of Education’s policy, which prohibits expulsions or dismissals for excessive unexcused absences.”
Thomas hopes that new data will paint a different picture.
“I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed. The legislature said this is a problem and they didn’t want it solved his way and schools are failing to abide by that.”