The Sioux Falls School District says it's ramping up efforts to stress the importance of parents getting their young kids to class, but more needs to be done to stop a growing problem: students of all ages missing school.
“If they're not in school, they could be out there and quite a few sometimes are doing things that are negative to their well-being: drugs, alcohol, theft,” explains Sioux Falls School District Assistant Superintendent James Nold.
When a student misses an excessive amount of school without a medical excuse or other notification, SFSD usually files a truancy report. But, the process looks a lot different these days after state law changed a couple years back. District leaders say the punishment isn't as harsh as it used to be.
“Truancy was something that an individual would go into probation and eventually could go into juvenile detention. But, it changed to a ticket-able offense,” Nold says.
Around the same time that the law changed, the district says it noticed something else happening and continuing to happen: it now takes longer for a student to actually be truant. Administrators used to be able to file a truancy report after a student skipped ten to 20 days throughout the school year. Now, they say the court system won't accept those reports until kids have missed about 30 days.
These factors could all be reasons why a new problem is on the rise: unexcused absences.
Last school year, more than 2,300 kids, K-12, had ten or more unexcused absences. That’s a big jump from 1,465 back in 2014. It’s a rate growing faster than the overall student population. Many of these absent students aren't to the point where they're truant, so they're not facing many consequences.
“There's not going to be a school punishment per se, there's not going to be a law enforcement punishment per se, not going to be a court punishment per se,” Nold explains.
But, research shows there are drawbacks for students when they miss that much school, like a drop in grade point average. So, what can be done to fix this? The district says punishment used to be too severe for truancy. But, now more needs to be done to put a stop to absences for kids who are truant and ones who stay just below that truancy threshold. Officials plan to brainstorm solutions this year.
“What is there that we can get the kid involved in as an intervention to help change what they're doing?” Nold asks.
Starting this fall, the district is doing more in elementary schools to tell moms and dads why their little kids need to get to class. The district's slogan is "Every Student, Every Day." The goal is to stop attendance issues at a young age.
“It's when a kid's not showing up, when a parent's not getting them there. It's hard for us to educate them when they're not there.”
SFSD says it plans to work with other area districts, the community, court system, law enforcement and the state to come up with ways to help students get to and stay in class.
Truancy filings are down compared to years past. There were 92 in the '15-'16 school year and 113 in '13-'14.