[r63] Making back to school easier

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, August 9, 2013

The arrival of August is a reminder to students and parents alike that the relaxing days of summer are nearly over. Sleeping-in will soon be replaced by early morning alarm clocks, and days at the pool will now become days spent inside, reading and learning. This can be a hectic time as there are clothes to be bought, pencils to be sharpened and book fees to be paid. 

With the beginning of any school year, there are a lot of ‘new’ adjustments: new bus drivers, new teachers, new friends and often, new requirements. To help make this transition as hassle-free as possible, I wanted to provide parents with a couple resources to prepare them for back to school.  

First, it is important to know that we passed new legislation this year regarding absenteeism (Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 338). In an attempt to boost student performance and achievement, the Department of Education (DOE) is now required to provide resources and guidance to school corporations concerning evidence-based practices and effective strategies to reduce absenteeism. School corporations and schools must also identify contributing factors to absenteeism and develop a chronic absentee reduction plan.

This is important because it aims to deal with the problem of students who suffer academically because they are frequently absent. It is common sense that is it hard to do well in school if you are not present for daily instruction. The Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy looked into chronic absenteeism and determined that students who are consistently absent, regardless of whether the absence was excused or unexcused, are significantly more likely to struggle or drop out of school than those who attend regularly.

This legislation also makes changes to the definition of chronic absenteeism. Currently, chronic absenteeism only applies to those who have 10 or more unexcused absences. Recognizing that absences affect student performance regardless of their reason, this legislation extends chronic absenteeism to absences for any reason while increasing the number of days necessary to receive this designation from 10 days to 10 percent of the school year, or 18 days. 

In addition to our efforts to foster an environment conducive to achievement, we also want to keep students safe. Beginning this year, parents will now be able to view school bus inspection records online. The Indiana State Police is committed to keeping children safe in schools and on the road. In accordance with Indiana state law, all school buses are inspected annually, while buses more than 12 model years old are inspected twice a year.

Once on the website, you can navigate from the county where your child attends school, look at the inspections for their school and finally for the specific bus that your child rides to school each day. This website includes information such as the total number of buses inspected and the number of buses that were approved, ordered to be repaired or out service. School buses that have safety belts will also be required to conduct an evacuation drill and to provide instruction on the proper use of a safety belt.

I supported these efforts because the safety of students travelling to and from school, and while they are at school, is always a top priority. By changing the definition of chronic absenteeism, we are allowing for some flexibility to keep one’s child at home when appropriate while also encouraging good attendance. This is crucial as we understand that emergencies happen, but we also know that students will perform at higher levels if they are in school more often.  

By making school bus inspection records readily available online, we are also increasing transparency for school safety and providing a valuable accountability resource for parents to have the peace of mind that their child’s bus passes all necessary inspections. Both of these instances also provide excellent examples of how Indiana is trying to stay current with the times. In doing so, we are affirming academic success and public safety as two of Indiana’s top priorities.

The possibilities of a new school year are exciting and limitless, which can make students a little anxious. It is my hope that this will prove to be a valuable resource for you and your children as you navigate this transition together. I look forward to hearing of everyone’s successes this school year and wish you all the best!