School Board Association works toward movie industry absentee policy

School Board Association works toward movie industry absentee policy

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - There is a new development in the excused absences controversy for public school students who are finding work in the movie industry. As we first told you a couple of months ago, child actors in many districts across the state are marked absent when they are out on a set filming. As more films come to the area, some districts are reconsidering those policies.

"It's an issue coming up in more and more of our school districts as the film industry has a larger presence in Mississippi," said Sherry Ponder, President of the Gulf Coast School Board Association.

Tracey Bennett has two children who are heavily involved in the movie industry. Her son, Lucas, has had a recurring role on the hit TV show "NCIS: New Orleans."

Lucas missed several days of school while filming. Most school districts only allow students 12 excused absences during the school year. Afraid he would be expelled for missing too many days, his mother pulled him out of the public school system and now home schools him.

"When the children are on the set, because they are under the age of 18, they can only film for eight hours. Out of that eight hours, it is mandatory at least three hours of school work is done. There are tutors on set for these children, and they do make sure that the children complete their school work that is brought from school. They sign off on it," explained Bennett.

Part of the concern is school districts receive state and federal funding for a student's average daily attendance.

"Parents are taking them out if they get a film for two or three weeks on site for filming, maybe in New Orleans or another part of Mississippi," Ponder said. "That, of course, is in violation of our school attendance policy."

The Gulf Coast School Board Association has board attorneys researching how students working in the film industry can be legally marked present even when they are not in class.

"How can this be done, and how can it be done to the benefit of everyone? It's not just a Bay-Waveland issue, not just a Hancock County issue. I'm hearing that districts like Laurel and Meridian are having kids out," said Ponder.

Mississippi has done a lot over the past few years to lure film makers to the Magnolia State, including offering tax incentives.

"Our state needs this economic boom, and we want to support it. How we might work together with the industry to develop policy so it does not hinder our children from pursuing their dreams in an acting career," said Ponder.

She says it's going to take everyone involved working together to come up with a solution.

"Our efforts with the Gulf Coast School Board Association is to work with the Mississippi School Board Association, with the attorneys, to develop policy that is state-wide," explained Ponder.

The Gulf Coast School Board Association hopes to have a policy in place before the next school year.

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