Absent children worry schools

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Increasing numbers of children are failing to turn up on the first day of school in Oslo, and both school officials and city administrators are worried. In several cases, they’ve had to resort to reporting the children’s parents to police, for hindering their own daughter’s or son’s education.

Linderud School on Oslo’s east side was missing 37 of its more than 500 students when school started last week. PHOTO: Oslo kommune

“On Monday we’ll be dropping four children from the enrollment list because they haven’t turned up after the summer holidays,” Anne Merete Laache, principal at the Linderud elementary and intermediate school on Oslo’s east side, told newspaper Aftenposten. “They lose their places after 10 days of unauthorized absence.”

That doesn’t mean efforts aren’t made to find the children or confront their parents. School officials visit the missing child’s home, contact the parents’ employers, check whether the family has moved without reporting it, and contact other schools and day care centers where the missing child may have siblings registered.

If no contact is established with either the missing pupil or the parents after three days, school administrators make more efforts to locate the child. After a week, city education officials take over, and contact police if unsuccessful. An absent child’s parents or guardians can be fined and face negligence charges if they keep their children out of school.

‘Sick grandmother’ abroad
In many cases, the absent child is abroad, often allegedly visiting family in the parents’ homelands that often include Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Turkey and other European countries. “We’ve been told their grandmothers are ill, or they missed the plane home in time for school,” Laache said. “We get suspicious.”

She told Aftenposten that 37 of the school’s 540 pupils were missing on the first day of school last week, and their absences were not authorized or reported in advance. “The day after school started, we routinely started calling the parents,” Laache said. Now the cases will be turned over to city administrators and likely the police.

“This is deeply tragic,” said Margaret Westgaard of the City of Oslo’s Department of Education. “It’s tragic for children whose education and future is taken away from them.” In some cases, the children are in Oslo, but their parents keep them out of school. “That can have huge consequences for the rest of their lives, if they lack instruction over a lengthy period,” Westgaard said.

Fathers protest
In some cases, children are sent out of the country aganst their will. Such cases increased to 73 last year, up from 58 the year before. There’s little Norwegian school authorities can do in those cases, with no national routines for following up what kind of schooling, if any, the children get abroad.

In other cases, the fathers of children show up at the school to protest if they have sought authorized absence for their child and failed to get it. “I can understand that airline tickets are cheaper outside the school holidays, but they are for everyone,” Laache said. “I have family abroad also,” she added, stressing that visits must be restricted to holiday periods, not during the school term.

Some families, she noted, are under pressure and feel obligations to their families back home, “but then it’s the children who suffer in the end.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund