Durham County

It’s after 11 p.m. Does your school-age child have permission to work?

Dwight Chandler addresses the Durham Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Oct. 26 concerning DPS’ handling of his child’s education and work history.
Dwight Chandler addresses the Durham Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Oct. 26 concerning DPS’ handling of his child’s education and work history. Photo from video, gchildress@heraldsun.com

Could an alternative school program designed to help Durham Public Schools students at risk of dropping out be encouraging them to leave school before they graduate?

At least one parent thinks so and he recently shared his concerns with the school board.

Parent Dwight Chandler complained to the DPS Board of Education recently that his child was enrolled at Durham Performance Learning Center without parental consent and that Interim Principal Kesha Futrell signed a permission slip to allow the child to work at a local fast food restaurant until the wee hours of the morning even though she had a grade of 25 in one of her courses.

Chandler said the manager of the restaurant produced the principal’s consent form when he went there to discuss the job and work hours. Chandler said the job required his child to work as late as 1:30 a.m. even though the child was expected to be in school by 9 a.m. each day.

Chandler said the child got the job in early October and missed almost every day of school afterward.

“We know that’s a recipe for disaster. I have an issue with that. We placed a note in [his child’s] file saying that no one can make a decision regarding [the child] without permission from me or her mom,” Chandler said, adding that he had retroactively signed the paperwork for his child to attend DPLC.

In an emailed response to questions about Chandler’s concerns, DPS said it could not discuss specific cases due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

But school officials did respond to a general question about principals giving permission for students to work late nights.

DPS officials said an employer needs permission from parents and a principal as stated on the North Carolina Department of Labor Youth Employment Certificate application, which youth under 18 must fill out to work.

“Nothing overrides parental authority unless the Department of Social Services becomes involved,” DPS wrote.

It was unclear who, if anyone, signed the child’s parental permission slip.

DPS officials cited the Labor Youth Employment Certificate application, which states that if a student is regularly enrolled in school, he or she cannot be “employed between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. when there is school the next day unless the employer receives written permission from the parent/guardian and the principal or principal’s designee.”

The restriction does not apply when a student is enrolled in a GED program or has dropped out of school.

Chandler said his child lives with a family friend, but no one has been appointed the child’s legal guardian.

He also complained that his child had missed an excessive amount of school time — more than 80 class periods — since school started in August and that he was never alerted.

“I was informed that she had missed 83 periods since the beginning of the school year,” Chandler said. “Me or [the child’s] mom had never been called, we’d received no letters, and they searched through the computer to make sure they had our current contact information, and they did.”

Chandler, who said that his 17-year-old child turns 18 in December has been rebellious and has run away in the past. He said he discovered the absences when he called DPLC recently to check if the child attended school on Monday, Oct. 23.

Under DPS policy, parents, guardians or custodians must be notified after three unexcused absences and the matter is referred to a social worker. After no more than six unexcused absences, parents or guardians must be notified by mail and after 10 unexcused absences, parents must be notified by certified mail.

“DPLC teachers and staff monitor students every three weeks (or weekly if students are experiencing severe issues). Advisers follow up with families on that schedule to share successes and areas of concern. Students and families also receive the mandatory letters (6-day, 10-day) and are invited to truancy court if the interventions are not successful,” officials said

Chandler said on Monday, Oct. 30, that he was informed by DPS that his child is no longer enrolled at DPLC, which is located in the Holton Career & Resource Center on North Driver Street. The school has an enrollment of about 200 students.

The program serves high school students at risk of dropping out who 16 or 17 and two or more years off-track for graduation, students 18 or older who are two or more years from graduation, students 18 or older who can graduate within one year and older immigrant students with limited past schooling experience.

Much of the learning at DPLC takes place online at computer stations and students are allowed to work at their own pace toward graduation. The school is popular among teen mothers and students who must work and also attend school.

“I still have yet to receive any resolution from either complaint that I have filed down here in (the DPS) Central Office, and it’s just sad because I see my [child] losing because she’s receiving a conflicting message,” Chandler told the school board. “It starts at home, I recognize that, but it also takes a village to raise these children and to shape these minds.”

He said he and the child’s mother allowed the child to remain at DPLC after being assured by Futrell that the program is a good one.

“She sold us on the program, said it was a wonderful program and talked about the strides that have been made over there,” Chandler said. “I can say, they were all lies.”

In response to a question about whether a student younger than age 18 could enroll at DPLC without parental consent, DPS officials said it is not possible.

“Our investigation indicated that all registration procedures were properly followed by the school and the school made multiple attempts to contact the child’s family in accordance with attendance policy and procedure,” said DPS spokesman Chip Sudderth.

Chandler said he gave his permission for his child to attend DPLC only after his child — who was already enrolled at the school — threatened to drop out of school entirely if she was forced to attend a traditional high school.

In North Carolina, students can drop out of school at age 16. Also, children must be at least 16 to seek a court ordered emancipation, meaning the child is no longer the responsibility of his/her parents and is responsible for his/her own actions.

Chandler said his child has not been emancipated.