Franklin County school board members are alarmed about the number of students missing school, and they are considering implementing policies that would require a set number of days in school if a student is to pass a course.
“We have to do something about these absences,” said School Board Chair Stacy Kirvin, during a report from Principal Michael Sneed at Monday’s regular meeting.
Sneed’s report showed that average daily attendance in the elementary grades all declined this month over November, dipping into the high 80 and low 90 percent range.
While excused absences were in the teens, the unexcused days ran as high as 85 for first graders, and were in the 60s for the other grades.
The situation was a little better in the middle school grades, with only slight increases in average daily attendance in the eighth, and increases to the high 80 and 90 percent range among high schoolers.
Superintendent Traci Moses said attendance officer Virginia Tillman has been busy following up on absences, and that it is often repeat offenders who continue to miss school year after year.
“It’s a difficult process,” she said. “Unfortunately it’s some repeat offenders, the same students from year to year.”
Moses said the schools work with both the Florida Department of Children and Families and the sheriff’s office, and are continuing to draw on the services of school attorney Donna Duncan involving court-related actions.
“This isn’t the kids, it’s the parents of these elementary kids,” said Kirvin.
“We have a serious attendance issue at school,” said Sneed.
Moses said teachers try to work with kids to afford them an opportunity to make up work they have missed. “We want to hold them accountable for it,” she said. “No matter how long it takes to get their work made up.”
School Board member Pam Marshall noted that times have changed since she taught. “Mine got zeroes for unexcused absences,” she said.
Kirvin said he’s like to see a change to the state law thresholds that trigger court action. “We need to lower the number that gets you to truancy court, and move faster,” he said.
“The law is not on the side the student, it’s on the side of the parent,” Moses said. “Unfortunately we can’t always hold parents accountable, but I’m thankful we do have that process.”
School Board attorney Barbara Sanders said it takes 15 days of unexcused absences before court action can be pursued.
Kirvin said he’d like to see a minimum number of classroom hours attended in order to enable students to pass on to high grades. Sneed noted that setting a minimum of 1135 hours “would blow up the graduation rate. With this data we won’t do well when it comes time to take a test.”
Kirvin asked whether the policy could be enacted up through elementary and middle school grades.
“It’s hard to keep teachers, teachers can’t survive with that (absenteeism,” he said. “Why don’t we do it K through 8, seat hours. They’ll have good habits by the time they get to the ninth grades.
“We got to do something,” Kirvin said, noting that he’s rarely seen students who score poorly on the standardized tests in the early grades held back.
“Education has to be a priority in this county. Whatever we need to do to get this to happen,” he said. “It 9student performance) is not going to change no matter what we do with this kind of attendance.”
“This is definitely something we have to attack,” said Moses. “This is a prevent issue in our county and it’s been an issue.”