By WILL SULLIVAN
PICAYUNE — Home schooler Denise Rigney is concerned that home-schooled children are being unfairly classified as truants because they have flexible schedules that allow them to be outside when other children are in school.
Rigney addressed the school board for the Picayune Municipal Separate School District at its noon meeting Tuesday because of concerns raised at an earlier meeting by the Pearl River County Neighborhood Watch about truancy and whether all children who are supposed to be being home schooled actually are being home schooled.
Rigney, when asked, said there are 174 children registered for home schooling in the Picayune district, but she didn’t know how many more were registered in the county. Children who are being home schooled have to be registered with the district in which they would attend school as being home schooled.
She asserted that many home-schooled children do better on the ACT and other standardized tests than children who attend school, but acknowledged that not all home-schooled children or their parents do as well, but said that was no different that with the children who attend school. Rigney also said she opposes state testing of home-schooled children.
She said that some of the confusion about truancy and home schooling may arise because many children who are home schooled don’t know to tell officers or others who ask why they are not in school that they are home schooled.
Rigney said one of the facets of home schooling is its flexibility, which allows parents to choose when they want to school their children.
“We are very supportive of the truancy laws, but we don’t want you to make the mistake of confusing home schooling with truancy,” she said.
However, Pearl River County Sheriff’s Dept. Chief Deputy Frank Vaccarella said later in the meeting that the sheriff’s department would like to help enforce truancy laws but now have to back off when they stop a child and the child says that it is home schooled. Vaccarella, who was supposed to follow Rigney on the school board’s agenda, came at the end of the meeting because he had been delayed in getting to the meeting. He was there at the request of the Neighborhood Watch group to address their concerns to the board.
“Right now, we don’t have the resources to find out if a kid belongs in school or is being home schooled,” he told the school board and the home schoolers who were still present at the meeting.
The chief deputy had several questions about truancy officers and said the sheriff’s department would be happy to take the officers under its jurisdiction , if that is possible.
However, he was told by board attorney Gerald Patch that right now truancy officers come under the state. He suggested that Vaccarella talk with the Mississippi Department of Education and the district’s attorney in Jackson that represents the board on the state level about the truancy officers and their responsibilities and how the sheriff’s department may help. Patch also said he would do further research on state truancy laws himself to help answer some the sheriff’s department’s and the school board’s questions.
Vaccarella said the department doesn’t know what role it has in helping to enforce truancy laws but is concerned because the department is seeing a “spike in juvenile activity” that he indicated was leading to an increase in crime. He said the department would like to set up a central collection facility at which juveniles suspected of truancy or delinquency would be brought. There the department would determine where they belonged.
“We want to hold parents accountable for their children,” he said.
Prior to the address by Rigney, the school board recognized the Picayune Memorial High School track team for its accomplishments.
Also during the meeting, the board agreed to hold a workshop on district capital needs, including the need for a multi-purpose building at Nicholson Elementary. The workshop will take place some time early in July after the board knows what its budget and fund balance will be for the 2008-’09 school year.
The board also approved the secondary uniform policy for next year after striking the phrase “solid colors” from the description of schools and substituting the description “primary colors,” and after approving language allowing cargo pants.
In other matters, the board:
— Approved personnel matters.
— Approved consent items, including donations by Stennis Space Center and Formby Realty.
— Approved 16th section matters.
— Approved requests to use district facilities, including the auditorium for a public hearing by the Department of Environmental Quality.
— Approved dues for PREPS and the Miss. School Boards Assoc.
— Approved the PMHS handbook.
— Approved moving the district to a modified 10-point grading scale.
— Approved purchasing varsity girls basketball and softball uniforms.
— Approved payments to Landry & Lewis for stadium lighting design and to ReflecTech Inc. for reroofing at the central office.
— Approved the second readings of a series of board policies.
— Went into executive session on student discipline and personnel matters.