Absenteeism among Cree students was a hot topic at this year’s Annual General Assembly in Oujé-Bougoumou. The rates have dropped but still remain high at 19%. Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said this would always be an issue, “because … the School Board (and the leadership) can only do so much.”

Coon Come thinks parents need to get more involved. “The parents have to decide what’s the priority for them. Is it school or is it sports? Because 60 days out of the year they’re missing school because you are sending them to a sporting event.” He noted some of that could be blamed on residential schools “and the loss of parenting skills” that is needed to raise a child.

Quebec’s Education Act is quite clear on school attendance. According to Section 17: Parents must take the necessary measures to ensure that their child attends school as required.

Section 18 addresses remedies: The principal shall ascertain, in the manner determined by the school board, that students attend school regularly. When a student is repeatedly absent without a valid excuse, it adds, the school shall intervene with the student and parents to reach an agreement on the most appropriate measures to ensure he or she attends classes.

If these measures remain ineffective, the case is to be referred to Youth Protection. This means your child or children could be removed from your care.

I have a few ideas. We could go “old school” and hire a truant officer. They would visit the parent at work or at home to ask if the child is sick or has some reason why they are not in school. Make it conspicuous so people are embarrassed. A few visits to their workplace may see a change in attitudes.

Have the local band council enact a curfew with penalties. Start with a few volunteers assisting the police to round up the children. There would have to be a way for police and parents to coordinate and communicate to make this work. Then the parents who are charged have a choice of assisting the police in rounding up kids breaking curfew for a few nights or spending evenings in jail for the same amount of time.

Yes, that’s harsh but tough love may be what is needed to get the school absenteeism rates down. When it affects you directly because your 10-year-old is running around after midnight you will start to pay attention. Truant teens could be given community service under supervision by parents. Surely every community needs a clean-up or beautification here and there?

I guess I’m asking the leadership and the Cree School Board to do more and ensure parents get involved since some of them don’t appear to care about their children’s future. Education for our youth is not an option. They and our communities deserve a real effort to address this problem. Our future as a Nation depends on it.