The state's auditor says five Ohio school districts have used questionable attendance policies and practices, putting them at a higher risk for scrubbing attendance data to improve their school report cards.
The districts are Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Marion and Campbell. Scrubbing is the practice of removing students from enrollment without lawful reason. Following allegations that Columbus City Schools officials had manipulated student records, taking studdents off the rolls then re-enrolling them. State auditor Dave Yost launched an investigation this summer. He says districts improperly categorized students as "truant" in order to strike them from the rolls.
Yost: Without a court order, a child is not truant.
Trafford: This is the first time that any state official, to our knowledge, has said that.
Buzz Trafford, a lawyer retained byt the Columbus city Schools to aid in the investigation says that's news to him -- and to many districts around the state.
Trafford: Until today no one ever knew that there was any question but that a student who met certain thresholds for non-attendance could be withdrawn.
He says issues of how to classify students absences gets to the heart of whether or not officials could legally remove them from the rolls. and he says that the state Department of Education manual is vague about those categories. Columbus Schools superintendent Gene Harris says today's findings from the state auditor is equally unhelpful.
Harris: I'm concerned that the interim report does not address the issue of how districts were to account for students who were not in attendance for significant periods of time. The auditor agrees that
school districts should be held accountable for only those students who are in school, but then deems any withdrawals for excessive absenteeism invalid across the board.
Hariss says the district was provided a copy of the auditors preliminary findings earleier this morning, and he staff has not had a chance to thoroughly review the material. But she says there is little guidance on how districts should procede in the future. she says she finds some comfort in the fact that of the over 4,000 files from Columbus City Schools students reviewed, 92% of the actions taken by the district were ruled appropriate. The data was collected from a sampling of more than 100 school buildings across the state that experienced high withdrawal rates -- or about 3% of Ohio's 3,688 schools.