PCS strengthening focus on attendance


By Belinda M. Paschal - bpaschal@aimmediamidwest.com



PIQUA — With students back in the classroom, it was back to beginning-of-the-year business for the Piqua City Schools Board of Education on Thursday, when the hot topic of the evening was attendance.

During the BOE’s first regular meeting of the 2018-19 academic year, Piqua Mayor Kazy Hinds read a proclamation declaring September as Attendance Awareness Month. The proclamation comes at a time when PCS is working to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism.

“Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of the school year,” said Mindy Gearhardt, the district’s student services director. “Statewide, absenteeism is about 15 percent, and in our district, it’s also about 15 percent. That’s about 500 kids out of just under 3,500.

“If a student misses two days of school per month, they will be considered chronically absent. It doesn’t take much. We need our kids to be in school; it’s all about getting good habits formed early.”

Even tardiness can hinder a child’s academic success, Gearhardt noted. For instance, if a student is 10 minutes tardy per day for a week, that adds up to 50 minutes per week, which in turn translates into 1.5 weeks per year. In an academic career of 12 years, that’s half a year of school missed, Gearhardt said.

“Even just missing a little bit a day does make a big impact,” she reiterated.

The most common reasons for absenteeism are illness and doctors’ appointments, Gearhardt said, adding that phone calls that go unanswered when schools check on absent students also are a problem.

Citing a study by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium, Gearhardt stated that nationally, more than 7 million students miss at least 30 days of school per year.

“If you think about that academic-wise, if a child is chronically absent in grades K-3, the will struggle with reading proficiently by the end of third grade,” she said. “By sixth grade, they are more likely to drop out of high school.”

The solution, she said, lies in parents working with schools to make sure their children are in school on time each day and understanding the importance of consistent attendance.

“Kids get great skills from socializing with their peers and great instruction from their teachers,” Gearhardt explained, adding that while teachers “go above and beyond the call of duty” to help students who have missed class, “It’s not the same. It’s like you and me missing work and trying to get caught up.”

Gearhardt said the Ohio Department of Education has added an indicator on the annual state report card tracking school districts’ chronic absenteeism rates. The next report card is due to be published in September.

“Also, the law has been changed through House Bill 410 — now we count hours, not just days, and excused/unexcused absences have to be counted,” Gearhardt said.

H.B. 410 was passed in late 2016 in an effort to decrease the number of students who end up in the criminal justice system for school-related absences.

The bill took effect in April 2017, changing the definition of truancy to be based on instructional hours, rather than days of instruction. Under the new definitions, the designation of “chronic truancy” has been eliminated, and the designation of “habitual truant” is defined as any child of compulsory school age who has been absent without legitimate excuse for:

• 30 or more consecutive hours

• 42 or more hours in a school month, or

• 72 or more hours in a year

According to H.B. 410, attendance officers shall file a complaint in juvenile court on the 61st day after implementation of an absence intervention plan if all of above apply, as well as:

• The district has made meaningful attempts to reengage the student through the absence intervention plan or other intervention strategies and alternatives to adjudication

• The student has refused to participate in or failed to make satisfactory progress on the plan, strategies, or alternatives

Superintendent Dwayne Thompson said as of yet, no charges have been filed against students deemed to be habitual truants.

To read H.B. 410 in its entirety, visit https://bit.ly/2w1XYpY.

The next meeting of the Piqua City Schools Board of Education will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 27, at the board office, located at 215 Looney Road. BOE meetings can be viewed online at www.piqua.org/Boxcast.aspx.

By Belinda M. Paschal

bpaschal@aimmediamidwest.com

Reach Belinda M. Paschal at bpaschal@aimmediamidwest.com or (937) 451-3341

Reach Belinda M. Paschal at bpaschal@aimmediamidwest.com or (937) 451-3341