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Montezuma-Cortez plans to crack down on school attendance, behavior

Anne Robles of USI Insurance addresses the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 Board of Education on Tuesday, July 19, regarding new health care coverage. (Erika Alvero/ Special to The Journal)
Chronic absenteeism might lead to legal action

Student attendance and discipline in the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 will be strictly enforced this year, and chronically absent students might face possible legal action.

Additionally, law enforcement officers also might become involved in cases where students have become unruly.

The doubled-down attention to attendance comes after district staff expressed a desire to address the issue, leading Re-1 Superintendent Tom Burris to meet with Montezuma County District Court Judge Todd Plewe. The new attendance policy will require the school district to document a series of interventions before anyone goes to court, however.

“We need kids in class, we need the kids in front of our teachers,” Burris told the Board of Education at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

The policy also will be retroactive and include the more than 400 students who were chronically absent last year, Burris said. According to the district’s preliminary enrollment count at the schools – excluding the charters and including the Beech Street preschool – was about 2,250.

When Burris came on as superintendent in March, he asked all staff members to fill out notecards answering several questions, which asked where the district needed to improve. The top three answers were more discipline, higher pay and better attendance.

Attendance is necessarily critical to students’ educational experience, Burris said.

“If a kid missed more than 10 days, statistically it’s almost impossible for that kid to be proficient in that subject at the end of the year,” he told The Journal.

Moving forward, after a student has about five absences – unexcused and excused – principals would begin the documentation process. The student’s parents would be contacted and asked to meet with administrators and staff to discuss appropriate interventions.

The purpose of interventions is to find specific ways to assist students in improving their attendance record and to determine if there’s a reason for the absenteeism.

“Is there some reason?” Burris said. “Not accuse, but say, ‘What can we do to help?’ That’s an intervention.”

If truancy persists, the Piñon Project might get involved, Burris said, and ultimately, if none of the interventions are successful, the district might take that student to court.

“When they go to court for attendance, Judge Plewe has many options, from fines to whatever he decides,” Burris said. “But he’s got many options. But basically, what he’s going to say is, ‘Education’s important, go to school, don’t show up in my court again.’”

The new policy also would address last year’s students who missed more than 10 days of school – more than 400 students, according to Burris. Because of the high volume of work this will entail, the superintendent requested a new position, for someone who will serve as Re-1’s point of contact for attendance and assist with attendance plans and documentation. The school board approved the position at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

The district also will work to positively incentivize attendance, Burris said. He recalled previously working at a high school that gave out balloons for students with three weeks of full attendance – to great effect.

“It was amazing to see those kids with a helium balloon that they can admit they were proud of it,” he said.

Because staff also indicated discipline was a concern in the district, Burris, Re-1 also plans to involve law enforcement officers in cases where students were intimidating or assaulting teachers or destroying school property.

“We’re not going to allow kids to tear up our school or our materials,” Burris said.

This article will be updated as additional information becomes available.