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In Ohio, dropout law hard to enforce 
January 27, 2012 

During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama urged states to require students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18 — a law already in effect in Ohio and 19 other states. 

Still, at least 23,000 Ohio teens dropped out in the 2010-11 school year. 

And only a small number of those kids took advantage of an Ohio provision that lets them “ officially” leave school if they’re at least 16, have a full-time job and have permission from a parent and the distric 

Most of those 23,000 were out of school illegally and could face penalties — if they could be tracked down. 

Local educators are trying a variety of ways to keep kids in school: They have hired truancy officers to work with teens at risk of dropping out. They have created alternative programs to help struggling students earn credits or serve those that don’t thrive in a traditional high-school setting. They have created charter schools aimed at high-school dropouts. 

“We know there is an economic consequence when a student drops out and doesn’t get a high-school diploma,” Reynoldsburg Superintendent Steve Dackin said. “We’ve got to do everything we can do to make sure kids stay in school.” 

The district redesigned its high school into career-based academies to help students think about their futures and identify their interests. 

Reynoldsburg also runs Everest Academy, a charter school that serves students at risk of dropping out. 

Getting students to school who don’t want to be there can be a struggle. Several school districts work with courts or agencies to help track down students in danger of becoming truant — meaning they’ve missed more than 15 unexcused days — or those that have just quit coming. 

Mindy Farry, a school-court liaison for the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, helps local school districts reach out to students with attendance problems. 

She meets with families to come up with solutions. Sometimes, she has to find the students. 

“It’s difficult, especially if they leave and are nowhere to be found,” she said. “It’s hard to know where to start looking for them.” 

Last year, she received referrals for 400 students who had at least five unexcused absences. 

Five percent of those referrals turned out to be truancy cases and were referred to the Juvenile Court, where judges can place students on probation, remove them from their homes or suspend their driver’s licenses or permits. 

School leaders say that Obama’s desire to keep kids in school until 18 is noble but won’t make much difference unless schools find better ways to engage students who are likely to drop out. 

And those efforts — online classes or more internships and work opportunities that are tied to their studies — can cost money, Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris said. 

“I think it is going to take the entire community — and not just the schools — working together to creatively meet students where they are at, with the programs they want, to reach the president’s goals,” she said. 

Harris also thinks schools should serve students beyond the age of 18 if they still are trying to earn a diploma. 

“I don’t think there is anything magical about the number 18,” she said. “They might be 20 years old and not have been ready or needed a little extra help to reach the standards.” 

State school Superintendent Stan Heffner agreed 

“I don’t know if a traditional setting works for all students, and we don’t want to shortchange them for the rest of their lives by not being flexible,” he said. 

Bexley Superintendent Michael Johnson said he would support Obama’s call as one more incentive for students to stay in school. 

“I just think it puts an additional burden on the student to be in school or be violating the law,” he said. 

Farry said requiring students to stay in school until 18 might be tough to do. 

“But it has to be the goal. You can’t set a bar that’s lower than that.” 

Read this and other articles at the Columbus Dispatch


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