Stop skipping school: State leaders hold summit in Detroit to cut down on absenteeism

Gov. Rick Snyder, other state leaders gather for school absenteeism summit

DETROIT - The Michigan Leadership Summit on School-Justice Partnerships: Keeping Kids in School and Out of the Justice System will take place Sept. 18-19, in the Michigan Room of the Sheraton Hotel Ann Arbor. The summit brings together teams of stakeholders representing Michigan's 83 counties. Their goal will be to help plan a better way forward in dealing with truancy, school absenteeism, school exclusion, out of school disciplinary action, juvenile justice issues of equal treatment and much more. Representatives of the courts, ISD's, Human Services leaders by county and other stakeholders will comprise the action teams from around the state.

Governor Rick Snyder will address the group Thursday morning at 9 a.m.

What parents can do to keep kids in school

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, a licensed psychologist and nationally certified school psychologist in Los Angeles, offered insight and advice for parents and educators dealing with a child going through school refusal.

A parent should:

1. Get help for their child immediately, and take concerns seriously, so the situation does not turn into full blown school refusal. No matter the root cause or how the symptoms manifest, he or she is still crying out for help. "Forcing or throwing a kid back into a system that isn't working is going to create more chaos rather than addressing the core issues," Mihalas advises.

2. It's crucial to "identify the underlying problem," Mihalas says. Is the child afraid of school bullying, having problems with academic tasks or facing separation anxiety and fears that something will happen to them or the parent upon separation? Did a trauma happen in the proximity of the school that has caused fear to attend school? If parents do not find out the function of the behavior, any plan developed collaboratively with the school and psychologist will be moot.

3. Work with the school and psychologist to solve the issues that may be causing the behavior, and maintain ties to the school. Schools should send work home and "create a home-school log whereby the teacher continues to speak with the student and form a relationship," Mihalas says. This way the child will feel safe upon return and still have a connection with the faculty and students.

4. Determine if there is anything in the family system that may be contributing to the child's refusal to go to school. Often parents assume that the school or their child are the primary reason for school refusal behavior when, in fact, parents often contribute to or exacerbate the behavior. "Parental behavior change is a big component in the treatment process," Mihalas says.

5. Resist the urge to coddle the child and "reward" them for staying home. Keep him or her on a schedule that reflects the school day, and if possible, maintain peer relationships through extracurricular activities, and, if need be, through social media like Skype or FaceTime.

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