School attendance policies: local control strikes again

South Dakotans have a particular objection to people telling them what to do. I quick search of the Argus Leader archives shows “local control” turned up in a variety of story topics:

- school consolidation

- merit pay for teachers

- graduation ceremony attire

- whether students should pay to watch high school sports

- wind development

- city sales taxes

- texting while driving

- where cities can place video lottery terminals

Gov. Daugaard even cited “local control” as an excuse for cutting state funding for education last year. He said if school districts want more money, they can raise local property taxes.

But as Bill Janklow taught us, sometimes people need to be told what to do. Consider the state’s new plan for school accountability, which would require every elementary and middle school to report its attendance rate to the state each year.

Attendance would be worth 20 percent of the School Performance Index, which determines which schools get intervention from the state.

The trouble is, attendance policies differ widely throughout the state. A student arriving 15 minutes late to his first class of the day might be on time in one school, tardy in another and absent in a third.

Education Secretary Melody Schopp said Monday that although the myriad policies will make reporting inconsistent, she has no plan to change that. A recent work group looked at standardizing the policies, she said, but “there was a lot of push back” from school officials concerned about local control.

“It is somewhat problematic,” Schopp said.

Sounds like it.

SD will not be bullied into anti-bullying legislation

The U.S. Department of Education reported earlier this week that only three states - South Dakota, Michigan and Montana - do not have laws addressing bullying in schools. Read the very long report here.

Michigan’s governor signed one Tuesday, so we’re now down to two.

But Montana at least has adopted a model policy for school districts. As the report says:

South Dakota is the only state with no bullying law and no source of state guidance for schools to respond to bullying on their campuses.

No state guidance, sure, but the lobbying group that represents all school districts does. Find it here.

South Dakota lawmakers have tried to pass a bullying bill. In 2009, HB1279 failed on a series of narrow votes despite having a slew of sponsors. It sought to define bullying and require school boards to adopt an anti-bullying policy.

Last year’s SB104 would have simply required school boards to enact anti-bullying policies. But it too failed, on a 4-3 vote in the Senate Education Committee.

Who would oppose an anti-bullying bill? In this case, it was Sens. Tim Rave, Mark Johnston, Elizabeth Kraus and Cooper Garnos, who now is a principal in the Lyman school district.

Also opposing the bill? The Sioux Falls School District. Here was their explanation:

The District opposes this bill because it moves the State Board of Education away from a policy making role and into the operational role of the school districts. The bill also infringes on local control of the elected School Board. The Sioux Falls School already has a bully policy that is also aligned to the District’s progressive discipline plan.

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