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State laws raise drop out age, increase gang related penalties
By Eric Chaney
Marion Daily Republican
SPRINGFIELD -- A new state law that took effect after the new year has changed Illinois' high school dropout age from 16 to 17, in an effort to keep more students in the schools.
Schools might encounter additional discipline problems from students who no longer will be allowed to drop out at 16, but alternative programs, such as the Marion High School Extension Center, are available for those students.
The extension center, which offers an alternative classroom setting for students who have fallen behind on their graduation requirements, is a large part of Marion's success at curbing their drop out rate. The statewide high-school dropout rate last year was 4.6 percent, according to the 2004 state report card issued by the State Board of Education, but according to Marion High School's school report card MHS has a significantly lower rate of 2.8 percent.
"At 16 years old I don't know if kids are really capable of making a decision of what's good for them," said extension center administrator Ray Huelsmann. "I think the justification behind it is that it gives them that one more year of maturity to make that decision to try to get their diploma."
The extension center caters mostly to juniors and seniors who are of legal age to drop out, but have made the choice to stay in school. However, Huelsmann said that there are probably kids in his classes who, had they been given the option of dropping out at age 16 and hadn't had the opportunity to go to the extension center, probably would have dropped out.
Huelsmann said that the extension center, which currently serves around 60 students, was the district's answer to a dropping graduation rate, and he applauds district administrators and board members for having the foresight to deal with an issue that the state has only now taken action on.
"We're in the forefront because we saw the problem and the administration and the board found a solution to the problem before a lot of other people were even thinking about it," said Huelsmann.
The new law also provides that certain provisions that apply to truant officers apply to the regional superintendent of schools or his or her designee in a school district that does not have a truant officer. It makes changes concerning the compliance procedure for persons who fail to send a child to school as well as allowing certain students to enroll in graduation incentives programs and listing programs that qualify as graduation incentives programs.
Another closely related law that passed over the new year increases the penalty for gang recruitment on school grounds. According to the new law a person may face Class 4 felony charges for "threatening the use of physical force to coerce, solicit, recruit, or induce another person to join or remain a member of a criminal street gang, or conspiring to do so."
The law applies to all school buildings or school-owned property and extends from elementary all the way up to college property.
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