SPANISH FORK — Nebo School District students are being given an added incentive to attend school: an attendance court.

"This is going to be an adjustment for some in our district but it will help us have better attendance in our schools," said Nebo Board of Education member Debbie Swenson.

The new attendance court, which will come into play as a last resort for habitually non-attending students, will be manned by volunteer attorneys.

The board unanimously approved the change to its attendance policy at its Wednesday meeting.

Five unexcused absences are allowed per school year, according to district policy and state law.

Parents of elementary students will receive a "letter of concern" after five unexcused absences. After 10 unexcused absences, a "notice of compulsory education violation" will be sent. If the elementary student has five additional unexcused absences, an official "compulsory education violation" — which is a class B misdemeanor — will be issued to the parents. The violation will be referred to the Utah County Attorney's Office or the Juvenile Court.

"It's a criminal violation," said Reed Park, Nebo district legal counsel.

That's when the new attendance court could come into play if the county attorney's office or the Juvenile Court could opt to make a referral. If the attendance court is not successful, the matter would be referred back for criminal proceedings.

The process would be similar for secondary students, although missing one class during the day could also count against the student. Another difference is the student, not the parent, is sent to court.

For secondary students, there is a potential $30 fee for a truancy prevention class. There is also a $50 fee for the attendance court which could be refunded later if the student's attendance improves.

The new district policy matches State Code by defining "excused absence" as an illness; death of a family member or close friend; or approved school activity. As a district policy, it also adds medical, dental or orthodontic appointments; family emergency; or family activity.

There are opportunities for students to work off either of the fees through district office work options, such as custodial chores or community service.

The district's goal is to comply with State Code as updated by the Legislature in 2007.The district's new policy also makes exceptions related to a student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) which is for special needs children and is developed pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. Also excluded are students using Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. For example, a student with a broken leg can miss physical education classes.

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