Since Columbia County school officials instituted a tougher attendance policy earlier this year, nearly all of the county's schools are showing fewer absences.
So far this school year, all but two schools - Evans Elementary and North Columbia Elementary - show higher attendance rates, Superintendent Tommy Price told school board members at a Monday meeting.
Last school year, the system averaged a 96.7 percent attendance rate. So far this year, the average daily attendance rate is 97.3 percent, a 0.6 percent increase.
"It does show our (average daily attendance) has been improving," Price said.
But Price warned that those numbers could change as the year continues, once the cold and flu season takes hold.
The new attendance policy allows only five excused absences a semester without a note from a medical professional and limits overall absences, excused or unexcused, to 10 per semester.
Violators are reported to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office truancy abatement program and could appear in court. If the absences are egregious enough, truant children, and their parents, might face a juvenile court judge who could fine or incarcerate the parents.
Columbia County juvenile court Judge Doug Flanagan said in a recent interview that since the policy went into effect at the beginning of the school year he has jailed at least two parents for weekend stints because of their truant children.
Price called the new policy a "radical change" from the previous attendance policies, but effective.
Permis-sible excuses for missing school were recently expanded by the board, and Price said the policy might continue to require improvement.
"We're continuing to monitor attendance almost daily, and we'll continue to tweak until we get it where it should be," Price said.
Also at the meeting:
- The board gave final approval to a 610-pupil growth estimate for the 2006-07 school year. The system grew by more than 800 students this year. The projection is crucial, because the student population forms the basis of the system's budget, Price said.
- The board approved the purchase of 364 laptop computers at more than $400,000. The computers will be used to form 11 mobile computer labs for classrooms. One-cent sales tax funds will pay for them.
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