New bill would require schools to re-enroll dropouts

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Last month, state Sen. Miguel del Valle introduced a bill that would prohibit high schools from permanently dropping chronic truants from their rolls.

Under the proposed law, chronic truants between the ages of 16 and 19 who are failing could be dropped from school attendance rolls for only one semester. Schools would then be required to re-admit those students, or so-called pushouts, if they choose toreturn.

Current law permits schools to drop truant students over age 16 who would be unable to earn enough credits to graduate by the time they turn 21. The law also requires schools to offer such students “due process as required in cases of expulsion.” However, this provision is largely ignored.

The bill also would mandate that schools provide support services such as tutoring and counseling to students prior to dismissing them, and track the academic progress of dropped students if they are re-admitted.

Some principals argue that schools are already making substantive efforts to keep students in school. A staff of six works the phones in the attendance office at Robeson High in Englewood, “begging and preaching the importance of education” to parents and students, says Principal James Breashears. “We are hustling and expending tremendous resources trying to keep kids in school.”

Breashears says older students with few credits would be better served in alternative or evening programs, and high school staff would have more time to focus on preventing younger students from dropping out.

Community groups who support the pushout bill agree that meeting the needs of older dropouts is a challenge, but argue that many high schools make little effort to retain chronic truants. This fall, Parents United for Responsible Education helped as many as a dozen students re-enroll in schools that had pushed them out.

Juliann Salinas, an organizer at Greater West Town, which runs an alternative high school for returning dropouts, says students who are pushed out have nowhere to turn. The bill would “put a little more accountability on the principals and the teachers. You can’t just hand [students] walking papers and say bye-bye,” she says.

Advocates do not expect legislators to take immediate action on the bill, which was introduced in the fall veto session. A coalition of community groups is convening to lobby lawmakers and push CPS to make policy changes that would reduce pushouts and expand dropout recovery programs.