Chronic absenteeism is a serious concern for all school districts and with a 2.7 percent increase in chronically absent students in the 2017-18 school year from the 2016-17 school year, there are added concerns in the Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD). ‘Chronic Absenteeism’ for RUSD would be when a student misses 18 days out of the school year including excused and unexcused absences.
The district uses the California School Dashboard to track progress of the different schools including California Avenue Elementary, Mesa Verde Elementary, Cardozo Middle School, Adelante High School and Riverbank High School to improve student success. Some of the effects of chronic absenteeism on students are their progress, attitude, and behavior during the school day which can increase the students that drop out of school.
“We decided that we really needed to take a closer look at this,” said RUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Christine Facella. “One of the things that we found was bringing awareness to principals, bringing awareness to teachers and to the community would be one way to get the conversation started.”
Overall, Facella explained attendance at all the school sites is good and with programs in place from the principals at the different school sites to encourage good attendance has had a positive impact, however it is the other group of students that are chronically absent that has the district concerned.
The Dashboard shows that for the 2017-18 school year, California Avenue was at 95.14 percent for the average daily attendance, Mesa Verde was 94.47 percent, Cardozo was at 95.31 percent, Adelante High School had 92.67 percent, and Riverbank High School’s average was 94.80 percent for daily attendance. The average for all school sites are around 95 percent or above which is not a bad percentage and shows that kids are going to school, said officials. However there are those that are in the chronic absenteeism category that are cause for concern.
According to Facella, homeless students are some of the students that fall into the chronically absent category for a number of different reasons. A student is deemed homeless if they are living in their vehicle or if families are doubled up in a house.
“With homeless students we know there are issues so we work with the families and we just keep working on it,” added Facella. “This is something we want to bring to people’s attention. We want people to share the information about programs and help that is out there. Communities are supposed to help each other.”
Last year there were 25 students coded as homeless from TK-8. Currently district wide for all sites there are approximately 300 kids that have missed 10 days or more. Out of the 300 students, 157 are in grades TK-8.
The McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act passed in 1987 is a federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. It has been amended several times since the original act passed. This act defines homeless children and youth as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The act also includes children and youth that are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, as well as living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or shelters and several others. There are services offered to such individuals like tutoring services provided by the County Office of Education, or they may supply backpacks and school supplies.
“Principals look at how many days and I am having them do that right now because we are tightening up on our monitoring,” stated Facella. “So we want to bring it to everyone’s attention so that they are aware of the importance of getting kids to school. It is not just about why are you not coming to school but what is causing you not to come to school. It impacts their achievement. If they are not in school I think it says on that sheet for every day you miss it takes three days to recoup what you missed. So that is significant missing of educational and learning time.”
The District has a site attendance review team that is led by the site principal which is the first intervention when a student has missed 10 days or more. Prior to that a letter will be mailed to the family and then the review with a flexibility for working parents. If the issue continues then the next step would be a district attendance review team at the district office with a panel of people like child welfare, attendance pupil services, and possibly a psychologist in hopes to resolve the issue or help the family in need. After that if the problem continues it will go to the county level for assistance which are usually the severe cases that may include court hearings, fines or something else dependent on the situation.