Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy in Texas Schools

child with backpack

Many parents don't keep track of how often their kids are absent from school, especially in the early years of their education. Missing a day here or there doesn't seem like much unless they are grouped together. Unlike truancy, which only counts unexcused absences, chronic absenteeism takes into account not only unexcused absences, but also these “innocent” excused absences, as well as suspensions. Later, these innocent absences become a serious problem. Whether it is truancy or chronic absenteeism, low attendance has become a severe problem in Texas schools.

Students miss school for different reasons, some only recently becoming prominent issues, such as:

  • Bullying – Bullying has become an increasing problem. Aided by social media, the threat of emotional and physical abuse has risen exponentially. Students would rather avoid school altogether than risk serious injury and humiliation.
  • Academic struggles – Students who have fallen behind become discouraged, disengaged. They feel no personal connection with their peers or school and simply stop coming to class.
  • Health care issues – Students with conditions such as asthma, allergies, and diabetes are often forced to miss class. Students with special needs must sometimes use school time to visit specialists.
  • Mental health issues – Since the pandemic, there has been an increase in students battling depression. Some students also face abuse and neglect.
  • Economic issues – Homelessness and lack of dependable transportation also make it difficult for students to even know from day to day if they will be able to attend school or not.

Excess absences can have serious effects on a student's academic success, as well as their life after public school. If they miss too many days in the early years of their education, they may fall behind in fundamental reading skills, which creates a domino effect for future learning. They might also miss learning crucial school readiness skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creative thinking. Students who are chronically absent between grades 8-12 are 7 times more likely to drop out of high school. Without a diploma, they often earn lower incomes and resort to criminal activity.

With early intervention, parents and schools can work together to help keep students in school.

Parents can help by:

  • Scheduling medical appointments for after school
  • Scheduling family vacations during school breaks
  • Keeping kids home only when they are truly sick, such as when they have a temperature of 101 degrees or have an infectious illness.
  • Talking to their kids about school. What did they learn that day? What did they do? Show them that school is important to you.
  • If a child tells their parents they are being bullied, parents should contact the school and talk to the teacher or principal. Deal with the problem right away. Children can't learn if they don't feel safe.
  • Parents should start monitoring absences in elementary school in order to have a routine set in the coming years.

The schools have their part to play, as well. In elementary school, teachers can help by:

  • Having regular parent-teacher conferences
  • Encouraging parental attendance at school sponsored activities
  • Letting the student's parents know they are interested in their child's problems and want to help them individually. Let parents know they can contact them with any concerns and be taken seriously.

Middle and high school are critical times for absence intervention. Teachers can help in the classroom by making attendance a priority. If a student has frequent absences, try to find out the cause in order to help them. Let their parents understand how chronic absenteeism can affect their child's education. Keep up positive communication with them, so they know you care about their child. Keep an attendance log in order to monitor classroom attendance and watch for excessive absences. Many schools have created attendance teams in order to develop programs for improving attendance, programs that make students feel safe and connected to their school. These teams also monitor absences and try to deal with them before they become a legal issue.

Attending school does not guarantee a student will learn. The ultimate effort is up to them. But they can't learn if they aren't in class, and with the cooperation of parents, teachers, and administrators, students in Texas will have that chance for a better future.

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