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Prosecutor focuses on school attendance

Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk continues with one of his main initiatives as prosecutor: to promote education by being in the classroom.
‘I firmly believe that a key component of receiving a quality education is attendance in the classroom,’ Schalk said in a letter to parents of Harrison County elementary and intermediate schoolchildren.
Four years ago, Schalk’s office started the ‘Get ‘Em in the Classroom Campaign’ and, since then, he said, school truancy has been drastically reduced.
The campaign focuses exclusively on students in grades 1 through 6.
Schalk said that age group is the most vulnerable because they are so dependent on their parents.
‘When it becomes apparent that an issue with truancy is affecting the child, the schools will notify our office and we will meet to discuss causes and solutions to the problem,’ Schalk said.
By state law, students are allowed 10 unexcused absences each school year.
Schalk said his office has developed a great relationship with the schools, specifically Corydon Central and Lanesville, and hopes to be more involved with North Harrison and South Central in the future.
After eight excused absences, the prosecutor’s office is notified, and a letter is sent to the parents or guardians, asking why the student has missed school. It is in no way a threatening letter, Schalk said.
‘It’s not meant to scare, but to look for solutions,’ he said.
After a student reaches 10 days of unexcused absences, a meeting with the parents is scheduled.
‘We always try to work with the parents,’ Schalk said.
If the problem persists, however, the parents will find themselves in court.
Schalk’s office has prosecuted and put folks in jail for not complying, he added.
‘There’s no place an 8-year-old needs to be during the day other than the classroom … ‘ Schalk said. ‘School is not an option; it’s not a debate.’
Ultimately, Schalk said, they want each child to be successful in school and in life, and getting to school is the first step toward ensuring that success.
‘It is abundantly apparent when you come to the courthouse a high majority of defendants do not have a high school diploma,’ he said. ‘If we can increase (number of high school graduates), we’ll reduce the amount offenders coming through the system.’
Get ‘Em in the Classroom has a goal of setting up children for success beginning early in their education.
‘All too often, children who struggle in high school with truancy and academic issues begin showing these difficulties beginning in grade school,’ Schalk said. ‘It is our belief that setting these children up for success beginning in their earlier years will lead to their success in upper grades and life.’
Schalk said education opens the door to the brightest future possible for students.
‘I have always subscribed to the theory that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Likewise, I believe that a quality education can be a crucial factor in avoiding the criminal justice system,’ he said. ‘And, with that, I have been passionate in my resolve to ensure that every child in Harrison County has an opportunity to succeed in the classroom.’
For more information, call the prosecutor’s office at 812-738-4241.