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Brookhaven, Lincoln County schools combat chronic absenteeism

The Brookhaven School District had a lower rate of absenteeism for the 2016-17 school year than the state average, but the rate for Lincoln County was slightly higher.

Any student missing more than 17 days of a 180-day school year is classified as chronically absent, and the Mississippi Department of Education’s Chronic Absenteeism Data Report for 2018 found that missing 10 percent or more of school — regardless of whether the absences were excused, unexcused or the result of a suspension — caused students to have:

• Lower levels of numeracy and literacy by third grade.

• Higher levels of class failure and suspension in middle school.

• Greater likelihood of high school dropout.

• Lower rates of college completion.

Moreover, the report indicated that missing two or more days of school per month could actually stunt a student’s academic progress by two full years. Statistics also suggest that absenteeism is partly responsible for a recent widening of the achievement gap among students from low-income families and other minority groups.

“Generally speaking, there is a direct correlation between school attendance and academic performance,” Lincoln County Superintendent Mickey Myers said.

Mississippi public schools are currently financed based on the Average Daily Attendance of their student bodies, and absenteeism, chronic or otherwise, has a deleterious effect on funding. Hence, academic administrators place an enormous amount of importance on student attendance.

“Absences result in a reduction in the monies we receive to operate our schools,” Myers said.

According to MDE, the Brookhaven School District had an overall absenteeism rate of 11.6 percent for the 2016-17 scholastic year and the Lincoln County School District had a rate of 17.02 percent.

During the 2016-17 term, Brookhaven had 3,112 enrolled students, and, based on MDE statistics, 361 were chronically absent. Lincoln County had 3,372 children enrolled during the same period of time, and 574 were chronically absent.

Of all the county schools, Enterprise experienced the most absenteeism with a rate of 20.32 percent, and West Lincoln recorded the lowest rate at 12 percent. Meanwhile, Loyd Star and Bogue Chitto logged rates of 18.46 percent and 18.31 percent, respectively.

Statewide, the highest district rates of absenteeism are in Forrest County Agricultural High School (26.4 percent), Natchez-Adams School District (25.6 percent) and Lumberton Public School District (24.8 percent). High schools with the highest rates are Vicksburg High School (62.2 percent), Wingfield High School (47.5 percent) and Lanier High School (45.3 percent).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, districts with the lowest rates of chronic absenteeism are Hollandale (3.3 percent), Durant (4.7 percent) and Reimagine Prep (6.1 percent). High schools with the lowest rates are River City Early College High School (3.9 percent), Golden Triangle Early College High School (4.1 percent) and Simmons High School (6.5 percent).

“The daily attendance goal for individual schools is 96 percent. Frequently, this is achieved, but during the current school session, we are averaging between 91-94 percent throughout the district. We have been adversely affected by almost-epidemic occurrences of flu and strep,” Myers said.

Statewide, high school seniors have the highest rate of absenteeism of any grade at 30.82 percent, and third graders have the lowest at 7.91 percent. Brookhaven schools seem to follow that grade-based trend.

Mamie Martin Elementary recorded an absenteeism rate of just 5.66 percent, and Brookhaven Elementary had a relatively low rate of 7.3 percent. Lipsey School logged a 9.64 percent rate of absenteeism, and Alexander Junior High experienced a rate of 16.44 percent.

At 24.17 percent, Brookhaven High had the highest rate of absenteeism of any school in the city.

Truancy is one of the leading causes of chronic absenteeism on the national, state and local levels. It is defined as the absence of a compulsory school age student for five or more days without a valid excuse.

To help cut down on truancy, both the Lincoln County and Brookhaven school districts have automated phone systems that notify parents when a child is absent.

Myers said his district also employs a truancy officer whose job is to confront the parents of children who miss too much school. In Mississippi, parents and guardians of chronically absent children can face serious legal repercussions, including mandatory court appearances.

“One of the first steps school leaders can take to address this issue is to examine their data to identify the students who are struggling the most with chronic absenteeism,” said state superintendent Carey Wright. “Schools, parents and communities need to work together to make sure all children are attending school regularly.”

To help cut down on statewide absenteeism and bolster student achievement, MDE asks that parents:

• Ensure students arrive on time to school, well equipped and ready to learn.

• Take an active interest in the education of their child by talking to them about school and by attending school events.

• Call the school before 9 a.m. on each day of student absence.

• Be alert to any signs that might indicate bullying or other issues that could affect school attendance.

• Inform the school immediately if there are any matters arise that may affect the attendance of their son/daughter.

More specifically, the Brookhaven School District encourages parents to make sure students get a good night’s sleep and arrive to school on time. The district also discourages unnecessary checkouts.

Likewise, Lincoln County stresses the value of punctuality, which Myers considers a “real world lesson.” He also said that sleep deprived students usually struggle with class work at higher level than their well-rested peers.