In a story released by the Toledo Blade today, the Toledo Public Schools revealed that they had been engaged in the practice of “scrubbing” student attendance — the practice of withdrawing and re-enrolling students who are chronically absent and miss long stretches of school.  The TPS superintendent ordered a review of their district practices after Columbus was attacked by the Columbus Dispatch after the school district voluntarily requested assistance from the Ohio Auditor.  After being blindsided by the accusations, the Ohio Department of Education also became involved.

As the Dispatch was continually unable to articulate what laws, exactly, had been violated, we explained how the practice is not only legal, but actually advocated by the Ohio Department of Education and existing laws.  Just over a week ago on Plunderbund, we summarized the process:

…there is no law that defines when a district is permitted or required to “withdraw” a student.  Therefore, districts are left to independently make the decision about when to use these definitions of truancy/nonattendance in reporting a student as having withdrawn.  And because a student who is identified as truant to the point of being withdrawn isn’t usually identified until weeks later, when do you think the attendance adjustments would be done?

Today’s Toledo Blade article will read very familiar to those who have been following this story.  While not as full if implied guilt as central Ohio’s newspaper, the Blade story is similar in that it has a complete absence of lawbreaking.

The superintendent explains that it isn’t the notion of illegality that is causing him to cease the practice, but the absence of an explicit endorsement:

“There is a piece of what we do that we are hearing is in contention in Columbus, and that is the piece that we focused on and we are not doing anymore,” [Superintendent Jerome] Pecko said. “Whether or not it is something that will, in the end, be endorsed by the people in Columbus, we just don’t know. Absent that endorsement, I just don’t feel comfortable to continue to do it, so we have stopped it so this particular report card is going to be a clean report card.”

Lack of comfort does not equal against the law or even improper.  Pecko simply doesn’t want to have to deal with the State Department of Education who will be vigorously trying to hide this gaping loophole that they and the legislature have failed to address.  The TPS lawyer backs this up in statements that also support our post:

Keith Wilkowski, a TPS lawyer, said the Ohio Department of Education’s Education Management Information System handbook seems to allow “scrubbing,” but it is unclear.

“It appears this has been out there for a number of years,” Mr. Wilkowski said.

“I was left with really just scratching my head trying to figure out how one is supposed to follow the EMIS manual,” he said. “Overall the sense that one gets is that the state wants you to report the scores of students who have been in your system, but you are to be evaluated on the students you have had the opportunity to teach.”

Mr. Wilkowski said there is a provision directing schools not to count students who have been withdrawn for non-attendance or chronic truancy. The statutory definition for chronic truancy is five or more days, he said.

“We concluded this was just very unclear and has been going on for some time, and people have been trying in good faith to apply the concept,” Mr. Wilkowski said.

The district superintendent is unclear, the district attorney is unclear, and even the Board President is unclear, positing that the lack of clarity has occurred at the state level:

“I know that once it was brought to the attention of the superintendent and the board, it stopped immediately,” Ms. Sobecki said. “It looks to me there are questions at the state level of how they interpret that law, and I think that it might be a state-level problem,” [said Toledo Board of Education President Lisa Sobecki]

Will the Ohio Department of Education now also investigate a second large urban district that has self-reported the use of an attendance process that falls within the realm of ODE’s guidelines?  As this continues to be revealed as a standard practice of district’s “trying in good faith to apply the concept” as the TPS attorney confirmed, will the Ohio Department of Education finally step up and take responsibility?  The lack of a single shred of evidence that these districts have broken any laws through this practice simply can’t continue to be ignored by the Ohio press.

Ohio’s newspapers need to shift the focus of this investigation toward the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Legislature — those who craft (and fail to craft) laws that make sense for schools.


  • Karen

    Of course ODE allows scrubbing. This department allows a lot of unethical things to be swept under the rug. Things like inappropriate materials on their computer systems, no oversight of diplomas issued from the agency, losing data and not reporting it, allowing employees to claim hours they didn’t work, misuse of dollars, not abiding by laws ORC, and a slew of other things. How could this agency hold anyone accountable when they fail miserably at accounting for themselves? Good people are leaving this place because of dirty ways. I wish those people would speak out. I can only say so much as a state employee. Someone needs to do something about this place!

  • elisabethavery

    Not many know that online courses follow the normal academic schedule for each term. They are not self–paced. For instance all registered students at the High Speed Universities proceed through the course as a group

  • xx

    Just more misdirection by the Kasich regime to try and discredit the public education system in Ohio.

  • gregmild

    From the article: [TPS attorney] Mr. Wilkowski said there is a provision directing schools not to count students who have been withdrawn for non-attendance or chronic truancy.

    ORC 2151.011
    (19) “Habitual truant” means any child of compulsory school age who is absent without legitimate excuse for absence from the public school the child is supposed to attend for five or more consecutive school days, seven or more school days in one school month, or twelve or more school days in a school year.

    ORC 2152.02
    (D) “Chronic truant” means any child of compulsory school age who is absent without legitimate excuse for absence from the public school the child is supposed to attend for seven or more consecutive school days, ten or more school days in one school month, or fifteen or more school days in a school year.

    ORC 3321.191 Board to adopt policy regarding habitual truancy – intervention strategies.
    (C) Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the duty or authority of a district board of education or governing body of an educational service center to develop other policies related to truancy or to limit the duty or authority of any employee of the school district or service center to respond to pupil truancy.
    Response could reasonably include withdrawal from the school if parent/guardian is non-responsive to school inquiries regarding truancy.

  • John

    I think enough people are wising up to the Ohio dept of Ed. The place needs to go. I have received information and interviewed a few recent employees who left by choice due to the activities of this agency. I was appalled as a taxpayer that some things were going on at a state agency like this. Before you say where is the proof? Don’t worry they provided it. If I were associated with their leaders, I would be thinking I should have done the right things. This is going to get real interesting when the proof starts rolling out. Just deplorable…As a taxpayer I am angry.

  • And who is the person who chooses who is to run the ODE? Who runs off those who are doing a good Job? Let’s see if that one can be figured out.

  • Dave

    I don’t even know if Supt Heffner knows what is happening in his agency but it would be wise for him to find out! I would start asking why to the middle upper management of this place. The things I am hearing that are going on there need to be addressed, I would not give any information to this agency. The things I have seen and heard are wrong and need corrected now! My taxes aren’t for iPads for board members, computers with bad pictures, or to pay people who lie about hours they work and things like that. I am ok if my taxes are used to help educate kids, but this other stuff makes me angry.

  • Paul

    Simple answer…….NO! ODE will not investigate. ODE doesn’t care about the right things. We all need to stop paying taxes until they are accountable for their lack of ethics.

  • Another unethical Ohio agency? Well, shucks. You could knock me over with a feather. Under Rushpubliscums, you’d think they’d all be chock full o’ values by now. After all, Rushpubliscums have been in charge for most of the last 25 years.

  • Keith

    ODE will not investigate anything. The agency is too busy covering up there own internal inadequacies. Ethical values are not a part of this agency as evidenced by their support of unethical and fraudulent actions of their employees. This agency needs investigated.

  • Carol

    Ohioans…pay attention. Your tax dollars are being used for frivolous means instead of your kids education. iPads for people who dont know how to use them, trips to various unnecessary events, computers to be used for personal means including sickening material, employees who are not at work when they say they are, supervisors who are overpaid and support unethical behaviors. Use of state equipment for personal use including wrecking cars and buying tvs.

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