Chronic absentees not a problem in area schools

Published 9:48 pm Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lincoln County and Brookhaven school districts haven’t seen the chronic absenteeism found in other areas, but officials in both districts say they’d like to see their numbers drop to zero percent.

“You can’t teach them if they’re not there,” said Lincoln County Superintendent Mickey Myers. “An excused absence gives them an opportunity to make up the missed assignment but not the classroom instruction.”

That classroom time is crucial to learning, he said. “If it (absenteeism) affects one child, it’s an issue, but it’s not epidemic,” Myers said.

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The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released data last week that details the number of public school students grades kindergarten through 12 considered to be “chronically absent” — or missing at least 15 days — during the 2013-14 school year.

During that period, nearly 6.5 million students — or 13 percent of all students enrolled at schools that reported these figures — were considered chronically absent. Boys and girls were, in general, equally likely to be given this status.

The biggest problem area in the country was in Washington, D.C. In the nation’s capital, almost one-third of schoolchildren in grades K-12 are chronically absent.

In the Lincoln County School District, which includes Bogue Chitto, Enterprise, Loyd Star and West Lincoln attendance centers,  enrollment was 3,122 with a total absentee count for the year of 508, or 16.3 percent.

The Brookhaven School District includes five schools: Mamie Martin Elementary, Brookhaven Elementary, Lipsey School, Alexander Jr. High, Brookhaven High, Brookhaven Technical School and Fannie Mullins School. The BSD data shows a total enrollment of 2,963 for the 2013-14 school year with a total absentee count of 383, or 12.9 percent.

School attendance in Mississippi is compulsory for students up to the age of 17. Students must be in an accredited school or homeschool program, Myers said.

Students are allowed up to five unexcused absences before their case is submitted to a truancy office to investigate, he said. The same is true in the Brookhaven School District, incoming Superintendent Ray Carlock said.

“You can’t grow them if they’re not there,” Carlock said.

Carlock said parents are also encouraged to make sure students get a good night’s sleep and get to school on time. They should also be prepared for class. He discourages check-outs during the day if possible.

State law requires students to be present for at least  63 percent of a school day to be counted as a full-day’s attendance.

“We believe if students are present, we can teach them,” Carlock said.

Both Lincoln County and Brookhaven school districts have automated phone systems which notify parents of a child’s absence.

The system at Lincoln County had some technical glitches last year, but those have been fixed, Myers said. The system will be used again in the fall, and parents can expect to receive a recorded message if their child is absent.

Both Myers and Carlock said it is important that correct phone numbers are in students’ records.