Educators address absenteeism

Teacher Wanesha Wilbert wheels a cart with a laptop in a hallway at Denman Junior High School on Tuesday.

The return to hybrid education has led to higher absenteeism in some area, with some districts reporting attendance in specific schools as low as 72%.

McComb School District Superintendent Dr. Cederick Ellis told school board trustees last week  that McComb High School and Denman Junior High School were experiencing low attendance due to students not following their hybrid schedule, noting that students skip their in-person days and try to do their work at home instead.

McComb schools Federal Programs Director Betty Wilson-McSwain said she was working on solutions for the attendance problem.

“At this time, we are concentrating on Denman and Kennedy (Early Childhood Center) to improve attendance,” she said. “However, all schools are addressing students with high absenteeism. Attendance averages from approximately 72% to 87% at schools, with Summit Elementary maintaining the highest attendance rate.

“This pandemic is just as much as a challenge for parents. The reasons and concerns are just as unique as the child, so we are taking this case by case. We want to make sure parents are reaching out to the schools if there is anything that is hindering their children's learning. … We are here to help.”

Wilson-McSwain there are four ways to help keep attendance up, noting that many issues stem from connectivity and technological problems for students.

She said the district is working with parents one-on-one to find the problem and fix it, adding that information technology workers are offering parents and daycares assistance with logging in during virtual learning days.

Wilson-McSwain also said principals, district social workers and others are contacting parents with children who have particularly high absenteeism rates, and the district will call truancy officers if the need arises.  

She also warned that because of lower average attendance the district will get less funding, but hopes the state will find some reprieve given the circumstances of the school year.

North and South Pike school districts are also battling a challenging year for attendance, but North Pike Assistant Superintendent Scott Hallmark said the school’s average daily attendance has stayed above 90%.

“Keeping proper attendance is difficult, seeing as how we have such a varying schedule,” he said. “You have different groups of students attending using different types of schedules. That makes it difficult to accurately account for their attendance.”

He said the school tracks attendance through log-in on virtual days and traditional means during in-person learning. He also said because of the precautions of the pandemic, other common sicknesses have been lowered.

“Overall attendance has been about the same, on average,” Hallmark said. “When you take out the factor of COVID, we have fewer illness absences, so attendance is about the same if not better. As a whole, while it is more of an administrative challenge, it has not been bad.”

South Pike Superintendent Dr. Donna Scott said her district’s average daily attendance was about 97%, which is actually about 3% higher compared to the previous school year. She said the district’s willingness to adapt to the pandemic was a driving factor in keeping attendance up.

“We are doing pretty well with getting our students to school. I attribute this to the fact that we are continuing to provide a virtual option for our students,” she said.  “Although all students are currently virtual, once we return to the traditional classroom setting, students will still have the option to attend school virtually.”

She said the issue with her district is that there are some students officials have been unable to locate.

 “Also, while we have had some students that have not returned due to various reasons — home school, out of state transfer, transfer to another district — we only have three students that have been coded as ‘whereabouts unknown.’ ”

South Pike has been virtual since the week before Christmas break, and Scott said the district is waiting for the holiday coronavirus spikes to level out before returning to a hybrid schedule.

“School will always have some sort of asynchronous form of education now,” she said. “When we left back in March of last year, we had no idea that we were not going back for the rest of the school year.”

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