Attendance Matters: USD 259 fights chronic absenteeism

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wichita Public Schools continues to show high attendance rates, according the Kansas Department of Education. However, district staff are noticing a trend of chronic absenteeism.

“What we’re seeing is pretty much a flat line,” said Deputy Superintendent Tiffanie Irving. “What we know is we have students who are chronically absent, and what we need to do is decrease that number.”

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, including excused and unexcused absences.

District leaders said chronic absenteeism can hurt students in a variety of ways.

“Attendance matters,” said Irving. “We know that if a student is not sitting in a seat in our classroom, then they’re not able to learn the things that they need to learn in order to be successful.”

Irving said chronic absenteeism impacts a student’s academics, behavior and social-emotional character development taught in the classroom.

This year, the school district plans to take a closer look at student attendance in an effort to prevent an increase in chronic absenteeism.

“It’s important that we’re identifying, not only students who are chronically absent, but some of those early warning signs so that we can intervene early to prevent students from getting to that point where they’re identified as chronically absent from our classes,” said Irving.

A special attendance task force started in August, according to district leaders.

It’s made up of district staff and community partners.

“This is not something Wichita Public Schools can solve on it’s own,” Irving explained. “It takes our community. It takes our families, as well as the school working together.”

In addition to focusing on students missing class, the task force is in charge of finding out why it’s happening.

Those questions include: What are the root causes? What are some of the challenges that are prohibiting some students from being present in class?

The task force plans to look at data, policies, research and how other districts are fighting this nationwide issue.

“The task force will be working on this throughout this first semester,” said Irving. “As soon as we have those recommendations and plans, we’ll be sharing that.”

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