Schools across the nation have spent the past two years dealing with the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic. One significant issue, chronic absenteeism, is increasingly preventing some students from reaching their full potential. Being absent from school, without a valid excuse, could even lead to court referrals for students and parents due to compulsory school attendance laws.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% or more of the academic year for any reason, including excused absences, unexcused absences, and suspensions. For a 180-day school year, that means missing around 18 days per year, or two to three days per month.
“It’s been proven that chronic absenteeism creates issues for students in the classroom,” Mary Cheverton, Pulaski County Public Schools Coordinator for Student and Family Services said. “It increases the chances for low academic achievement and is a high indicator that a student may become a high school dropout. It has also been linked to poor outcomes later in life.”
Not only does chronic absenteeism cause problems for the student, but parents or guardians can also find themselves dealing with legal issues if the student becomes truant.
Truancy is the act of accruing one or more unexcused absences, where the parent is unaware of or does not support the student’s academic absence, or where the parent’s provided reason for the absence is not acceptable to the school administration.
“I feel like it is important to discuss the truancy process and the legal process,” Cheverton said. “The goal of the school system is to have students in school all day, every day, and engaged in learning. Since compulsory attendance is required by law, there are legal ramifications if students do not attend daily. The school system works with partner agencies and parents to create interventions and implement a plan to assist with attending daily. If improvement doesn't occur, legal action can occur. Parents and students may be referred to court and ordered to attend daily or ensure that their child attends daily.”
Unfortunately, this issue is not one that is limited to older students.
“When a student misses instructional time, it puts them behind their peers and in a position of having to catch up,” Dr. Kevin Siers, Superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools said. “Students can fall behind, even if they only miss one or two days every few weeks. Coming to school late is another issue which causes students to fall behind and it is distracting and disrupting the entire classroom. Building good attendance habits is one of the first keys to a student’s success.”
Parents and guardians can do several things to help promote regular attendance and good habits.
It begins at the elementary school level. Set a regular bedtime and morning routine for your students. Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before. Meet with your student’s teachers at the start of the school year and communicate with them regularly. Develop backup plans for getting your student to school if something comes up.
Once students reach the middle school and high school level, continue to stress the importance of attendance to your students.
Continued communication with your student and their teachers is one key. While it may be difficult, always try to schedule medical and dental appointments before or after school to avoid missed time. Making sure homework is done each night can also help prevent some absences.
Helping your student stay healthy is also a key part of preventing absenteeism. While health issues can’t always be avoided, your reaction to them can impact how your student views the importance of education. Work with teachers to get materials for the student to study and complete while out. Monitor your student’s academic progress and seek help from teachers or tutors when necessary.
Being active in school extracurricular activities is another way to promote regular attendance. While athletics can be a great way to keep students involved and active, other groups within the system can also be great ways to keep students engaged and involved. Fine arts programs like band, choir and drama, along with other clubs and organizations offered in the schools, can give a student extra incentive to not only have regular attendance, but also to ensure their grades are maintained.
“We want parents to know that we’re here to help them and their students,” Cheverton said. “If a student misses enough unexcused days, we are required to refer them to the court system. It’s a situation we never want to get to, but unfortunately it does happen. Our hope is to resolve issues before they get to that point and help all of our students reach their educational goals and move on to have happy and productive lives.”