School Attendance Does Matter

How important school attendance is and how it can affect both you and your family.

Haley Wojciechowski, Business Manager

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Each absence is counted per class, miss one class you have a total of one absence. Miss one day, it’s seven absences. You can only miss a certain amount of classes before letters are sent home and detentions are handed out.

The consequences of missing class vary depending on what state you live in and what school you go to. You could lose class credit, get dropped from a class, get a letter sent home, or detention.

The definition of Truancy is different in every state. For example, in Illinois, a truant is defined as any child subject to compulsory schooling and who is absent from school unexcused. Absences that are excused are determined by the school board. A chronic or habitual truant is a school-age child who is absent without an excuse for 10 percent out of 180 consecutive days.

Under Iowa code, a student who has eight or more unexcused absences in any one quarter, or 45-day period, in school is considered truant.

“If a student misses 15 days without getting excused from school, the parents can be cited in court, but school officials try to work with families to prevent truancy problems from getting to that point,” said Dawn Saul, spokeswoman of the Davenport community school district.

States have strict laws and codes about attendance because kids aren’t attending their classes. In 2013-14, roughly 14 percent of students nationwide were chronically absent (defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days, excused or unexcused, which in most states would correspond to about 18 days of school missed each year).

The Sioux City Journal wrote an article about Clinton, Iowa, where a mother was sentenced to 20 days of home confinement, was given a 10-day jail sentence and placed on probation because she had pleaded guilty to a second offense of violating Iowa’s truancy laws. Her 15-year-old daughter missed 16 hours of class and was tardy four times in a time period of 25 days.

A 2008 study of graduation patterns in Chicago Public Schools, for example, found that the number of days students were absent in eighth grade was eight times more predictive of freshman year course failure than eighth-grade test scores. For younger students, research has shown that chronic absenteeism in kindergarten is associated with lower achievement in reading and math in later grades.

Researchers categorize the underlying causes of truancy into four groups: student-specific factors, family-specific factors, school-specific factors, and community-specific factors. Teenage truancy, on the other hand, is more frequently associated with a student or school factors, such as fear of bullying or disengagement with school.  

For some high schools, there are different ways of making up lost hours. In Louisiana, Farmerville high school has three types of absences: the good, the bad and the ugly. Good absences are absences that are for a reason within the rules such as going to a funeral or if you sick with a fever. Bad absences are absences when you stay at home because you don’t feel good, you are tired, your clothes don’t match, etc. These are classified as unexcused. Ugly absences are also called cuts or truant absences because everyone who knows the student thinks they are actually in school but you’re not. All absences count toward meeting or not meeting the 95% requirement. A student can only miss 8 days out of the whole school year at Farmerville. If you miss more than those eight days then you have to make it up on a Saturday. If you can’t make it up on a Saturday, you still have to make up those hours you missed, such as staying after school.

Liberty has a different policy where you can make up your tardies with lunch detentions.

“Everyone is allowed five UA before there is detention. By the time you get 6 absences, I can drop you,” explains Kim Fitton, Dean of students.  “You have to show up and talk with me if you want to get reinstated. You have to sign an attendance contract and convince as to why this is different and why you should get back in. You have five excused absences by parents only the entire year. If you go anywhere, bring an excused note and it goes in as med and med doesn’t count. Everyone gets three free tardies per class and after that you [receive] detention for every time you’re tardy.”

“On average I see 50-75 unexcused absences per day, where the student is missing at least one class. Excused varies, which involves a school activity to an illness to being out of town or going to an appointment. 150 kids every day for some reason or another that miss at least one class,”  said Deb Wagner, receptionist and attendance office secretary.

State and nationwide solutions are being put forward to help end excessive absences. States and localities, for their part, have enacted a variety of measures aimed at curbing truancy, including laws that mandate steep fines and even jail time for juvenile truants and their parents. Text messaging to parents, which has gained popularity recently as a low-cost intervention, has been shown to improve attendance by up to 17 percent. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to report data on chronic absenteeism, but there is still much work to be done at the school and district level to ensure the quality and consistency of such data.

Here at Liberty, administrators will continue to work and prod kids to attend class as much as they can, but both Fitton and Wagner agree that this is on the kids.

“It affects the kids, not us, administrators or teachers,” said Fitton.

Wagner agrees, “I think that becomes pretty individualized. If someone is chronically absent, then letters get sent home and meetings with administration get scheduled. If it’s affecting their grades then it goes to the counseling office. But it’s not all for the same reason or the kid’s fault so they just need to figure out the problem with an individual conversation.”