Skipping school really leads to nowhere

“Skipping to Nowhere,” “Why September Matters,” “Just Showing Up,” and “Attendance Works” are all titles to reports on absenteeism and chronic truancy or programs to combat absenteeism and chronic truancy.

In Hawaii, the Department of Education defines “truancy as unauthorized absences from school.” Absences are defined as “the student is not physically present in school or in a scheduled class for at least half of the school day or class period except if the student is on an authorized school activity.” A student being absent from school without authorization from the principal or designee is called an unexcused absence.

Published October 5, 2016, Hawaii News Now wrote, “Nearly 1 in 5 Hawaii public high school students missed 15 days or more last school year and the figure topped 40 percent at some campuses, newly-released academic performance metrics show.” On Kauai, public schools suffered from 9 percent to 26 percent chronic absenteeism according to 2015-2016 Strive HI results.

The Hawaii state Compulsory School Attendance Law states that “unless excluded from school or exempted from attendance, all children who will have arrived at the age of at least five years on or before July 31 of the school year, and who will not have arrived at the age of eighteen years, by Jan. 1 of any school year, shall attend either a public or private school for, and during, the school year, and any parent, guardian, or other person having the responsibility for, or care of, a child whose attendance at school is obligatory, shall send the child to either a public or private school.”

A parent, guardian, auntie or tutu is responsible to get their child to school. If he or she neglects that responsibility, he or she may be summoned to appear before a judge. If he or she is proved responsible for not using proper diligence to enforce the child’s regular attendance at school, he or she shall be guilty of a petty misdemeanor. And he or she may face jail time.

Though parents have the greatest responsibility for getting their children to school, school attendance is also linked to their environments and how their family, school and community address their needs. According to Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC), they found that habits established in September persist over the whole year. A student who was absent fewer than two days in the first month of school averaged two days absent each month and over the year was absent an average of 10 days.

For the student who missed four days the first month, that student averaged six to nine days each month leading to a total of 70 days on average for the year. If we are able to see a pattern early in the school year, then is it possible to intervene and affect change in that child’s school attendance?

Because chronic absenteeism leads to an increase in the likelihood of dropping out of school and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system, Diplomas Now has come up with a four-part, multi-tiered approach to reducing chronic absenteeism:

1) SCHOOLWIDE EFFORTS create a positive school culture that supports and celebrates regular school attendance for all students and makes school a place where students want to be and where they feel welcomed and supported.

2) EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS provide a means to monitor student absenteeism weekly – in meetings that involve school administrators, teams of teachers who share common groups of students, student support personnel … to create a 360 degree view of each student and design interventions based on this view.

3) SUCCESS MENTORS are assigned to students who enter sixth grade with a history of chronic absenteeism or trend toward it during the year.

4) INTEGRATED STUDENT SUPPORTS ADDRESS THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS who disclose or are known to be chronically absent because of significant out-of-school challenges such as sibling or elder care responsibilities, substance abuse or mental health challenges at home, and homelessness.

Only the schools are definitively aware of chronic absenteeism. Parents frequently are unaware that their child is missing class or not attending school until the school informs them and the pattern may already be set.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey, (ACNJ) recommends preventing absenteeism early, in the early years of the child’s education before it becomes a problem by helping parents understand that attending school every day “is critical to their child’s educational success.”

They also recommend identifying problems at the beginning of the school year, “from the first weeks of school to identify students who may be at-risk and intervene early.”

Contacting the family immediately as soon as the problem is identified and determining the reasons why students are missing school will help to better position the school and family to address the needs of the child.

When schools encourage families to get involved in their child’s education and parents take part in school activities, a community of shared desires is created for that child.

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Questions?

Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at esolomon@haleopio.org For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to www.haleopio.org

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