COLUMBUS—A law passed by the Ohio General Assembly in December 2016 has changed how school districts deal with student absences and truancy.

Jessica Archer, associate principal at Nordonia High School, said the transition has "been relatively easy for our district to implement," outside of a needed technological update so that specific times could be recorded.

"Each building was already abiding by the requirements to provide extensive attendance communication and intervention to students and parents," Archer said. "What the bill has done for us is encourage vertical collaboration to unify our language and procedures throughout the district."

According to information from the Ohio Department of Education, House Bill 410 decriminalizes truancy in the majority of cases. The definition of "truancy" is:

• Absent 30 or more consecutive hours without a legitimate excuse;

• Absent 42 or more hours in one school month without a legitimate excuse;

• Absent 72 or more hours in one school year without a legitimate excuse.

Excessive absences, as defined by the law, include:

• Absent 38 or more hours in one school month with or without a legitimate excuse;

• Absent 65 or more hours in one school year with or without a legitimate excuse.

According to information from the Ohio Department of Education, under House Bill 410, students can’t be suspected or expelled for truancy. In addition, "district must take several steps to engage the student and his or her family before filing a complaint with juvenile court."

If a student is considered habitually truant, a school district is required to form an absence intervention team and make three attempts to have the student’s parent or guardian participate. The district also will develop an absence intervention plan for the student. If the student does not make progress on the plan within 61 days, a complaint can be filed with the juvenile court.

Archer said the intervention team at the high school includes Absence Intervention Team. At the high school, this team is comprised of the student’s associate principal and guidance counselor, as well as case manager, if applicable. In addition, the high school has added the support of Dr. Deb Wallace, "who created an attendance assessment course to meet the specific needs of the individual student and their circumstance."

Nordonia high school averages a 96 percent daily attendance rate, Archer said.

"We do not have any truant students yet this school year," Archer said. "Less than 5 percent of students are considered excessively absent this school year, although almost all of these students have provided medical documentation."

However, Archer said the law counts time missed from school "regardless of the reason."

"Most of our excessively absent students are absent for very legitimate reasons that we already know about, like ongoing medical issues or difficult family circumstances," Archer said. "By law, we have to send letters and hold meetings, which can add to the stress the family is already experiencing. We do our best to fulfill the intent of the law, while also exercising sound judgment that is in the best interest of the child."

Archer said she wanted to stress that absence intervention "is about supporting our students and their families in overcoming obstacles that make it difficult to come to school through proactive communication and resources."

"We are about solutions that help students learn," Archer said.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or ??@AprilKHelms_RPC??