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PENDER COUNTY, NC - Pender County Schools (PCS) has launched a new initiative aimed at aiding parents in steering clear of legal repercussions arising from violations of state attendance laws, while simultaneously providing students with crucial resources they may be lacking.

The Judicial Attendance Council, with assistance from the Pender County District Attorney’s Office, serves as an intensive intervention for families of students persistently absent from classes despite repeated notifications and outreach efforts from the school system.

Under North Carolina's compulsory attendance regulations, schools are mandated to address cases of excessive unexcused absences. Failure of a student to comply chronically, without response or cooperation from the family despite school intervention, may result in legal action against the parents. Students who are considered chronically absent have missed 10% or more of the school year at any given day.

Incorporating JAC meetings into the intervention process aims to help families circumvent such consequences. Only severe instances of chronic truancy are referred to the JAC. Students who have participated in council meetings have typically already missed a significant portion of school days.

PCS Director of Student Services, Leanne Radabaugh, stressed the challenge of maintaining academic performance amidst consistent attendance struggles. "It's virtually impossible for someone consistently struggling with attendance to maintain grade-level performance or academic progress," she said.

Rebecca McSwain and Sammy Dorcey, two PCS social workers, facilitate JAC meetings which happen on the last Thursday of each month. The meetings require the attendance of parents, principals, counselors, and school social workers involved in the student’s education. Additional attendees may include DSS, social workers, school nurses, representatives from Communities in Schools as well as PCS mental health partners depending on each family's needs.

Pender County Schools Superintendent Dr. Brad Breedlove has made attendance a top priority, challenging school leaders to reach a minimum of 95% attendance rates for both students and staff. "Our goal is not only to support families in navigating the complexities of state attendance laws but also to provide students with the necessary resources to thrive,” Dr. Breedlove said. “We are determined to address the root causes of chronic absenteeism and empower families to overcome attendance challenges. Together, we can ensure that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential."

Radabaugh highlighted the ongoing dialogue within PCS regarding attendance and collaborative efforts to enhance it. "Whether addressing student or parent health issues or motivating reluctant students, we brainstorm solutions as a team," she explained. For instance, if a student's guardians are unavailable due to work commitments and an older sibling assists, consideration is given to facilitating a transition to in-person engagement.

The purpose of the JAC is to pinpoint major issues contributing to attendance lapses, such as transportation challenges, resource deficiencies, unaddressed medical issues, or other emerging problems. Based on identified needs, individualized plans are devised for each student outlining expectations for improving attendance. Failure by parents to implement corrective actions within 30 days prompts the school system to file a warrant against them. A warrant may also be issued if a family fails to attend their scheduled JAC meeting.

In each instance, this intervention represents one of the school system’s final efforts in a series that may include letters, phone calls, meetings with administrators, and home visits.

"Our primary aim is to ensure comprehensive support for families, exhaust all available avenues to address barriers, and guarantee optimal school attendance for the children," Radabaugh reiterated.