Department of education, districts address jump in chronic absenteeism across Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Data from the Kansas State Department of Education shows a significant jump in chronic absenteeism. Specifically, the data shows an increase of about 14% five years ago to about 24.5% last school year. This means nearly one in four students was considered chronically absent, missing 10% or more days in a school year, including excused and unexcused absences.
Across the state, many children are missing school because of illnesses going around. But this is an issue involving more than just that and the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors like transportation, mental health and family situations are also in play.
Speaking with one Kansas school district working on the issue, they say a key part is working with families and bringing attention to the importance of students being in school every day they can. Addressing the situation with chronic absenteeism, Kanas Parent Information Resource Center Executive Director Jane Groff said the impact can be seen with state assessment scores in reading and math.
“It affects their daily work in reading and or math, and then the teacher, it affects them because they have to do a lot of research,” she said.
Great Bend Public Schools is among the districts in Kansas working further to address the issue. For last school year in Great Bend, about 700 students, 24%, were considered chronically absent, the district said.
Great Bend Schools Superintendent Khris Thexton explained that comes out to at least 17 school absences.
He said the pandemic had a clear impact.
“When (we) started talking about quarantines, you really hit a number of kids that were missing multiple days, even if they weren’t sick,” Thexton said.
Wanting every healthy student who can be at school to be present in their classes, the Great Bend school district is reaching out to the community and educating families about the issue of chronic absenteeism.
“We understand that our local employers are struggling to get people to come to work, and we seeing that reflection in our classroom,” Thexton said. “We want to try to partner with our community and help them out.”
He added, “A positive approach on educating our community on what that chronic absenteeism looks like.”
The Great Bend school district reports having staff in its buildings like counselors and family engagement coordinators, working directly with families.
Thexton said, “Face-to-face situations, contacting them, sending letters home. Just looking for ways that we can educate our families and just get in touch with them and let them know we’re here for them, we’re here to help, and we want to do what’s best for their child.”
The chronic absentee rate Great Bend is seeing is mirrored by the state.
Non-profit the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center, after seeing the rise, decided to act and started offering training, workshops and support to districts to help address this.
Groff said research is showing a punitive response doesn’t work, so it’s about education and relationship building.
“You want these healthy relationships with families and schools so they can honestly say, this is going on,’ or, ‘my child seems depressed and doesn’t want to go to school. What should I do?’” she said.
The Kansas Parent Information Resource Center said it’s seeing more schools focusing on attendance, tracing absences and looking for solutions.
Groff said, “The most common comment that I hear from family members or educators is, ‘we know attendance is a big deal, but we didn’t know it was that big of a deal.’ How it affects the students and or their children in terms of the important area of all reading and math. If they’re not there to receive the content, they missed out.”
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