What do you do when student absences affect their progress? I work with students who have emotional and behavioral disabilities, so any small thing happening in their world or their body might cause an adverse reaction, which causes them to skip school. It takes a long time to get them to a point where they can feel safe enough and comfortable enough to go to school. While they are learning that school can be a safe place, they tend to miss a lot of classes. We have a truancy policy in our school district that includes sending a letter home to inform parents of their son/daughter’s absences after 5 days and 10 days. After 15 days absent a letter goes home and a meeting is set up to discuss the issue, and after 20 days, truancy is filed with the district attorney (who then puts the case into the court system). I’ve been only slightly impressed with how the courts handle truancy cases.
When a student goes to truancy court for the first time it is usually well into the school year and the judge usually gives the student another 30 days to get it together and go to school. About a week before the next court date the student will pull together and go to school, which looks good in court, so the judge will grant another 30 days to continue the behavior. This cycle is endless. Only four times in my 15 years of teaching have I seen the judge actually take a child out of their parent’s home or assign a DCF worker to the case to make sure the child goes to school. Most of the time the cases are dismissed at the end of the school year and the cycle begins again the following year.
So teachers need to continue to work with students who are not gaining progress due to absences. I have started making individual lessons for my students. I use the site edmodo.com so that each student can be assigned their own task within my curriculum. Students can also access this at home since it is web-based; I have yet to have any students who are willing to do that, but I haven’t lost hope about it. Students can have conversations with each other or with me and they can turn in their paperless assignments online. This is completely private since the teacher sets up a code for the students to join; no one can just do a random search on the internet and see who is in the class or what students are saying.
It’s disruptive for the other students to have a student who is absent a lot suddenly show up for class. It throws off the rhythm of the class and it can make the other students uncomfortable, not to mention that the student who has missed a lot of school has no idea what’s going on and basically feels uncomfortable as well. Sometimes that contributes to even more absences. But crafting individual assignments or mini-projects help a student who is absent a lot get back into the swing of the class and feel safe and productive. It’s important to build a good rapport with students who are absent a lot so that you can help them make a good connection to school; that good connection can eventually be the way you personally coax them to school everyday.