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GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Many children in U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr are absent from school more than one-quarter of the time, and the garrison commander says the only sanction available to the Army is sending families back to the States.

In a command message last month, Col. Brian Boyle appealed to parents for help.

“Recently many children are missing school. Not just a little bit but a whole lot,” he said.

“While agencies have different standards, one that I use is 25 percent. I think a child has missed a lot of school if they have missed over 25 percent of school days for a grading period.”

Maggie Menzies, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe, confirmed Friday that principals and teachers have reported high rates of absenteeism in USAG Grafenwöhr, which includes schools at Vilseck, Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr. DODDS will provide statistics on the absentee rate for the garrison on Monday, she added.

Children could miss school for a lot of reasons, Boyle said.

“Perhaps it is a combination of being overseas while a loved one is deployed, too many other children, maternal or fraternal depression, or the malaise of the holiday season, but in any event this is a problem in our community,” he said.

Thousands of soldiers assigned to the garrison are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, including Vilseck’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Hohenfels’ Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment and several Grafenwöhr-based units.

In some cases siblings may be serving as baby sitters instead of attending school, Menzies said.

“It might be the spouses having difficulty with the soldier’s deployment,” she said. “Dad is deployed and Mom’s sick, so older sister has to stay home and look after the young children.

“It might be a lack of transport and the kid is suspended from the bus. These are all reasons that DODDS is exploring and the garrison is exploring.”

Ways to remedy the problem of absentee students are limited, Boyle said.

“We do not have truant officers overseas,” he said. “That means we do not have authority to go to homes and force children to go to school.

“As a result we have to depend on the chain of command to know the families that are having difficulty and reach out to help them.”

If that doesn’t work the solutions become drastic, he said.

“Not providing school is a form of child neglect. Identification of this child neglect pushes the case into the social welfare arena, and if still not resolved, my choices are very limited,” he said.

“All I can do is end up directing a command return of the family to the United States because, after all, it is a privilege to accompany your sponsor to Germany.

“But I don’t want to do that.”

Menzies said schools take unexcused absences seriously and call parents seeking an explanation.

She said students who miss more than 10 days of school are tracked and their parents are sent a letter stating that the student is being looked at for excessive absences and advising them of their right to a meeting with the principal or counselor.

Additional letters are sent at 15 and 20 days of absence. A “continued incidence of excessive absence” by a child results in command notification and a potential “educational neglect investigation,” she said.

Parents whose children are missing too much school can make use of a variety of programs within the garrison, Boyle said. They range from new parent classes to courses for teens.

“If you know of someone who is truly struggling, reach out,” he said. “Tell them there is help and follow up. Link them with [Army Community Services] or the school and we can help them through these troubling times.”

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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