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Bill would give military families more time with kids

Legislation would offer excused absences before, after deployments

01/02/2013 11:28 PM

01/03/2013 11:45 PM

Jonathan Stickland wants to help Texas' military families.

So the Hurst Republican, who will be sworn in as one of Tarrant County's newest state representatives on Tuesday, has filed a bill to give children of some military service members more time with their parents.

Stickland's proposal would allow those children 10 days of excused absence from school when their parent is about to be deployed or has returned home from deployment.

"We want to make sure military families are taken care of," Stickland said. "We talked to school districts here and they said that typically these kids are taking time off to go on a mini-vacation with their family and it's hurting the kids, counting as unexcused absences against them.

"This bill solves the problems on all ends, puts the families first and allows families to do what they need to do," he said. "It protects the children; it protects the school district. I think it's a win-win all the way around."

House Bill 202 states that a school district should allow a maximum of 10 excused absences for a student whose parent or legal guardian is an active duty member of the unformed services who has been called to duty, is on leave from or has returned from a six-month or longer deployment.

Currently, the state requires students to be present for at least 90 percent of the school year.

A large number of absences not only affects the amount of funds schools receive from the state, but it also can impact a student's learning, making it difficult for them to keep pace or catch up with the rest of the class.

Absences are excused for various reasons - illness, death in the family, quarantine and weather - but too many absences, whether excused or unexcused, could lead to a student being held back a grade.

Regarding children of active duty military parents, the current rule of thumb is that "a school superintendent may excuse a student's absence for the purpose of visiting with a parent or legal guardian who is an active duty member of the uniformed services and has been called to duty for, is on leave from, or immediately returned from deployment to a combat zone or combat support posting," according to the Texas Education Agency website.

State Rep.-elect Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said he asked to co-author the proposal to make sure those children have time with their parents.

"Military members are putting their lives on the line for us," he said. "When they go off or come back safely, we want to make sure families can spend time with them at those junctures.

"But we don't want to penalize schools and have them lose funding."

The proposed legislation, which would go into effect Sept. 1 if approved, drew some positive comments locally.

"This proposal seems to be a compassionate and thoughtful gesture toward the families of our service members," said Michael Sorum, deputy superintendent of learning, leadership and student support for the Fort Worth school district. "Separation from a parent is always stressful for a child. Separation because of military service brings its own set of unique situations which can generate even more stress than usual.

"Allowing our military families some extra time to adjust to an imminent departure will help students and families be more successful," he said. "We know that military parents understand the importance of doing well in school and we know that they will use these extra privileges judiciously."

Stickland said his proposal is similar to one that was filed late in the 2011 legislative session.

And he said he plans to work to make sure there is support on both sides of the political aisle for this proposal. "I don't think it's a partisan issue," he said. "I plan on having a lot of bipartisan support."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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