Some of you doubted this was happening when I asked about it last week here on the blog, but the AJC has found through an Open Records request that nearly 13,000 Georgia teens had their driver’s licenses yanked in 2010 for just one reason: Too many unexcused school absences.
Under state law, 10 or more unexcused absences are all it takes for that coveted coming-of-age privilege of driving to come to a screeching halt. At least temporarily.
Students generally have ample warning about the law that’s more than a decade old. It’s spelled out in the student handbook, plastered on posters in some high school attendance offices and underscored in red-flag letters that go out, typically, after five or seven absences.
In Cobb County, an automated calling system alerts parents when unexcused absences reach the thresholds of five, seven, 10 and 15 days. That same system automatically prints a letter for the school to mail and sends an email to the parent, said Paul Pursell, the district’s truancy coordinator.
Yet students in virtually every county lost their license for a year or until they turned 18, when the law no longer applies, according to data collected by the state Department of Drivers Services and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act.
Gwinnett, home of the state’s largest school system, had the most absence-related license suspensions in 2010, with 2,269 out of a statewide total of 12,974, or about 17.5 percent, the data shows. Large numbers of license suspensions also were reported in most metro counties, including Clayton (619), DeKalb (960), Forsyth (503), Fulton (1,156) and Paulding (596).
The state suspended the licenses of 941 students in Cobb County, including a couple of friends of Osborne High senior Myra Hernandez. “I told them that’s what you get. You should stay at school,” Hernandez said.
About half of the 50 states have laws linking student attendance to driving privileges, said Matt Lenard, policy analyst for the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). West Virginia was the first, with a law in 1988, he said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog