Mayor Dennis Kintigh, shown far left, proposes an ordinance Thursday night that would make the educational neglect of a [auth] child 13 years of age or less a citable offense in the city’s Municipal Court. Kintigh and Roswell Independent School District Superintendent Tom Burris said school attendance is directly tied to academic performance (Bethany Freudenthal Photo).
In a Legal Committee meeting Thursday at City Hall, Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh unveiled a proposed ordinance that would make the educational neglect of a child 13 years of age or under a citable offense.
If approved by the City Council, the ordinance as stated in the first draft would charge the legal guardian of a child with a petty misdemeanor and direct the parent to appear before a judge in municipal court, with the maximum sentence being a 90-day jail term and $500 fine if the child has 10 unexcused absences from school.
“As you are all aware, we have run on a campaign of making this a safer community and to make a community safe, we need people to behave in an appropriate way,” Kintigh said at Thursday’s meeting.
The proposal defines educational neglect as a parent, guardian or custodian of a child, subject to compulsory school attendance, who, by their neglect or refusal to prevent, causes or permits a child to be absent from school, without an authorized excuse, more than 10 days during a school year, states the proposed ordinance.
“The objective is to, as a community, for the well-being of the community, to use our legitimate authority to encourage, to jolt, (to) motivate parents to get their kids to school,” Kintigh said.
At the meeting, Kintigh said the state statutes regarding truancy are difficult to enforce and involve multiple agencies such as juvenile probation officers, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, courts and counseling. The state statute also involves students all the way up to high school, whereas the mayor’s proposal focuses on children who are 13 years old or younger.
“The advantage of this approach, versus the state statute, is the degree of complexity and levels of trying to get so many different entities involved, because with older children, teenagers, the parents aren’t necessarily in control,” Kintigh said, “that’s why this ordinance specifically targets children that are 13 and under.”
“We’re not dealing with truant 17 year olds, we’re dealing with children who have not been provided for by their parents.”
Since the unexcused absences would be considered a crime, enforcement of the ordinance would involve the police. Kintigh said he perceives the school district would send a list of the names and addresses of students who have been absent for 10 days and police officers would be sent to knock on doors issuing a citation for the accused to appear in municipal court.
“The citation is kind of like a summons, kind of like a parking ticket if you will,” said Kintigh. “Your child has 10 unexcused absences, you need to appear in municipal court.”
Roswell Independent School District Superintendent Tom Burris said he and Kintigh have spoken individually about school attendance. Burris said he believes the proposed ordinance is the city’s way of supporting the school district.
“I believe the whole ordinance that’s going to be discussed as to what can the city do to support the school district in getting kids to school, and that’s one of my highest priorities, attendance,” said Burris, who did not attend Thursday’s Legal Committee meeting, but spoke with the Daily Record beforehand.
Burris said that school attendance has a direct impact on a student’s proficiency and studies, including a study published by the RISD that states if a student misses over 10 days in a class, he or she isn’t going to be proficient in the subject matter.
“Dr. Sarangarm, who used to work for the RISD, did a study of kids and proficiency, and his findings were that if a student missed over 10 days of a class, that their chances of being proficient were right next to zero,” Burris said.
Attendance is not only important for student success, but it is also tied to the success of teachers, because student achievement now counts on teacher evaluations, Burris said.
“If they’re not in class, they don’t learn,” Burris said.
Burris also said that funding for New Mexico schools is not based on the structure of average daily attendance, as it is in some states. School funding in New Mexico, according to Burris, is based on enrollment average of attendance on the 80th and 120th days of school.
The next step in potentially adopting the ordinance will be an in-depth study by legal reviewers, moving it through a City Council committee and hearing different opinions about the proposed ordinance, Kintigh said.
“There’s nothing more pathetic than these homes where children are not gotten to school. Sometimes it takes a wake-up call, a knock on the door from law enforcement to motivate certain individuals to do what they should be doing naturally,” Kintigh said.
If passed, the ordinance can go into effect as early as next school year.
Staff writer Bethany Freudenthal may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or firstname.lastname@example.org.