The school system is finding ways to address student absences

ROCKINGHAM – Staff at Richmond County Schools continue to find ways to fully engage students and participate in the classroom after last year’s sharp increase in absences resulting from the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, student attendance and absenteeism were issues that came to the fore in the virtual environment. Middle and high school students did not resume in-person learning until late spring 2021.

From August 2020 to March 2021, 10,439 letters were sent to families of K-12 students alerting them that their student had reached 3, 5, and finally 10 unexcused absences. Each time a student reached these numbers of unexcused absences, a corresponding C-3, C-5, and C-10 letter was sent home.

Broken down by grade level, high school students in Richmond County received a total of 3,900 C-3, C-5, and/or C-10 letters. College students received just over 2,500 letters; primary school students received approximately 3,900 letters.

Three months into this school year, the RCS has sent out 1,377 letters, which is an improvement over 2020 statistics, but still trails the rate of student absenteeism before the pandemic. From August 2019 to March 2020, a total of 800 letters were sent through RCS.

The majority of letters sent home are C-3, which is the first offence. The letters C-3 represent 865 of the total number of 1,377 this year. C-5s represent another 378 letters and C-10s 134. Currently, a breakdown of this year’s letter by rank is not available.

Dr Wendy Jordan, director of student services, said the letters sent home last year were filled with an “abundance of grace and mercy”. The letters contained advice for parents on how to remove barriers that prevent students from learning, such as access to the Internet or a computer.

In accordance with the law, the RCS is required to report a student with 10 absences to the director of social services and the magistrate. Social workers can start taking legal action from 10 unjustified absences. For primary school pupils, an unjustified absence applies to an entire day. For middle and high school students, an unexcused absence qualifies for any of their daily course blocks.

“The families were given a year’s reprieve to file a lawsuit, but we still have the same stacks of documents,” Jordan told the Daily Journal in May. “Chronically absent students – if this remains an issue for the 2021-22 school year, we are going to court and will have this year’s documentation to take with us.”

Social workers, as well as teachers, counselors or administrators, may conduct a home visit to check if a student is not showing up for school. Jordan clarified that with the C-10 letter, many social workers prefer to hand-deliver them.

“It gives them the opportunity to have a conversation with the parents to say ‘Yeah, look [you’re student] missed a lot of school,” Jordan said. “It’s not our goal to bring people to court. Our goal is to try to get students to school on time to maximize their learning. »

Social workers worked on plans with the families to make school attendance a priority.

Last summer, all school districts in North Carolina were required to offer a summer school program for at-risk K-12 students through House Bill 82, which was signed into law. by Governor Roy Cooper. At-risk determination is based on student grades and attendance

Jordan said social workers developed action plans with families that coincided with the summer program opportunity. The summer school focused on revising missed content from the school year, while also serving as credit recovery.

However, for chronic student absenteeism, Jordan said that in the future, parents will be taken to court and have to explain why their students are not in school. Jordan recalled her years of experience as a director and said that for many of these situations it is a “historic problem” that occurred before the pandemic, but that the events of the last year have exacerbated the problem.

Jennifer O’Donnell, a social worker at East Rockingham Elementary School, said she monitors daily attendance at her school. She also looks at a student’s past attendance to identify any trends.

At three unjustified absences, Powerschool, the school’s technological software, automatically generates the C-3 letter which is sent home. O’Donnell said she asks for a parent’s signature for final confirmation, as well as to make sure her contact details are always readily available.

“If absences increase or there are academic or behavioral issues, there may be a meeting … regarding the student’s needs,” O’Donnell said. “Communication is the most important thing. We will work with students and parents, but there is nothing we can do if there is no line of communication. All aspects of the school system are available and working together to meet the needs of students and families.

Approach the problem

“It’s important before you send your child back to school, if they’ve been expelled for a COVID-related reason, to make sure that when their child returns to school, they have the proper paperwork,” Jordan said. .

This allows an unexcused absence to turn into an excused absence in Powerschool. If a student had to be quarantined for symptoms related to COVID-19, this is another time students can return to school with the necessary paperwork to ensure their absence is not counted from incorrect way. It must be returned within five days of the absence.

When a child misses a day or two, Jordan said it’s common for the teacher to call and follow up with a parent.

Jordan said that this year the students are really benefiting from being physically present in class. She added that while many students are still acclimating to returning to class, opportunities for social-emotional learning and being able to support a student’s well-being have been easier to access.

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Contact Matthew Sasser at 910-817-2671 or [email protected]

Jeremy S. McLain