During the third segment of the Columbus press conference in response to the State Auditor’s interim report, attorney Robert Trafford reiterates the Auditor’s lack of logic in his interpretation of truancy law and challenges Dispatch reporter Jennifer Smith Richards to read the Ohio Department of Education attendance reporting manual and to ask critical questions about the instructions given to school districts.
Some of Trafford’s key comments:
“Until today, no one ever knew that there was any question but that a student who met certain thresholds for non-attendance could be withdrawn. This is the first time to our knowledge that any state official has ever said that.”
In response to an argumentative Bill Bush from the Columbus Dispatch: “Take a look at that list. Look at code #71 and tell me what documentation is required in the EMIS manual. That line is blank — there is none.”
“What would happen if every child who had five consecutive unexcused absences was trotted down to juvenile court [as the auditor implies is required]? It would be a mess and it just doesn’t make sense.”
In the final segment of the video, Trafford repeatedly refers to the reporting of Dispatch reporters Bill Bush and Jennifer Smith Richards, calling on them to essentially start reporting the facts as they are being presented and stop their rampant speculation of wrongdoing based on their inaccurate interpretation of the data they have obtained. Trafford also hammers away at the points that the school district has repeatedly complied with every request for information from the Auditor’s office and all news reporting outlets.
Says Trafford, “But with all due respect to Bill and Jennifer, the reporting on the number of changes exaggerates what is happening here. You can’t simply look at he number of absences that are deleted and draw much in the way of a conclusion.”
A key example he cites is a flawed report where “either Bill or Jennifer, I can’t recall” connected 19 students to 4,400 reported absences in a given year, an average of 241 absences each, a figure that is impossible to achieve during a single school year of 180 days. In the data records there are a mix of daily, half-day, and period-by-period attendance figures that cause a mix of numbers when in the hands of unskilled data analysts (i.e., reporters).
Trafford went on to say, “Our only point here is that everyone needs to be careful and cautious and needs to let the audit and investigations play out before drawing conclusions because these are important issues. The data is huge – Bill and Jennifer can tell you how voluminous the data is and how hard it is to sit at your computer and go over an Excel spreadsheet and try to make any sense of it.” Yes, it’s obviously been very hard for them.