Every school year, a Greenwood Middle School adviser is prepared for several students to not show up.
No phone call from a parent. No note from a doctor. Just an empty chair in a classroom.
Students’ attendance habits often are reviewed before the school year begins, so administrators can try to work with the student and the family before it’s too late and the student falls behind, student service adviser Kyrian Marshall said.
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Middle school administrators will call elementary schools and request information on incoming students’ attendance habits to get a heads up on who likely will be absent early in the school year and often throughout the year.
Schools know the students aren’t simply playing hooky. Patterns in their previous school years show they were absent because they moved from school to school, faced an unstable home life or had parents who aren’t engaged and involved, Greenwood Middle School Principal Chris Sutton said.
At the high school level, some students are missing the balance between school and work, putting in too many hours, Indian Creek High School attendance secretary Laura Britt said.
Since the new school year began, more than 100 students across Johnson County have missed at least two days of classes. At some schools, as many as 10 of those absences were unexcused, meaning they weren’t reported by a parent or a note and no reason was given to the school office.
Problems at home, issues in the classroom, such as disrupting class or fighting with other students, or a lack of interest in school can lead to a child missing school. Other reasons could include parents who are struggling to get their children to attend or are not making an effort at all, school officials said.
At Greenwood Middle School, nine of the students who were absent more than two days were unexcused, and two of those students missed multiple days in the same week.
So far this year at Franklin Community Middle School, 91 students have missed more than two days of school, Principal Steve Ahaus said.
“It’s not a building-wide issue, it’s just select kids,” Ahaus said. “When it comes to attendance, it’s usually a small group of students who miss a large amount of days. With those absences, it’s usually a kid being defiant and the parents are pushing; and in the other instance, the kid is wanting to come to school, but they have no support from the parent.”
At Indian Creek High School, 40 students have missed more than 2 days. Ten of those students were not reported as absent.
If students have trouble getting to school because they’re getting in trouble at home or their parents aren’t involved or around, schools officials will arrange meetings with the family or set up meetings with a social service group, such as family counseling, to help them work through their issues.
When a student is not at school and a call has not been made by a parent, a letter goes home, a phone call is made, and the student who is absent is now in a category of kids whose attendance will be closely reviewed. Administrators check on these students daily to make sure one or two days of unexcused absence doesn’t turn into a habit that can be detrimental to the student’s grades and future. Some schools will request a meeting with the family as early as the fourth unexcused absence if grades are suffering early in the year, school officials said.
When Franklin middle school administrators meet with parents their goal is to identify the reason why a student is not at school. The school tries to assist the family and the student through the counseling department and outside groups, Ahaus said.
At Greenwood schools, most attendance issues are resolved once the student’s parents understand the school’s policy, Sutton said.
“Some kids just don’t want to come to school, and their parents struggle getting them to attend; and others don’t care too much, but that’s a rare case,” Sutton said. “At the middle school age, it’s really not the parents anymore.”
At Indian Creek High School, after 12 unexcused absences, a sit-down meeting is scheduled with the family, and a contract is set up to get parents to commit to getting their teen to school and back in the classroom, Britt said.
Contracts have been made in recent years that require students to show up or have certain stipulations, such as limited reasons why the student can be absent. If the contract is broken because of more unexcused absences, the school can pursue truancy charges on the student.
Just last year the school had to pursue charges against a student who continued to miss school after all the steps to correct poor attendance were taken, Britt said.
While it is one of the last steps in many local schools’ policy before expulsion, contacting police or the juvenile probation department can be an option. Juvenile probation can assist the school in keeping tabs on students who have missed a lot of school and can help the student get back on the right track and stay out of trouble.
Franklin Community Middle School rarely expels a student for continued truancy, Ahaus said.
“We do everything we can. We use all the available resources we have to sit down with the family and convince the student to be at school,” Ahaus said. “We want to keep kids in the building, not expel them. We try hard not to expel students for truancy.”
Across the county, hundreds of students had more than 10 unexcused absences in the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year full data is available. Here’s a breakdown per school district:
Center Grove: 149 students
Clark-Pleasant: 250 students
Edinburgh: 39 students
Franklin: 27 students
Greenwood: 99 students
Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson: 103 students
SOURCE: 2013-2014 Johnson County school corporations’ annual performance reports