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Marshalltown school district addressing chronic problem

Marshalltown School District is addressing chronic absenteeism, not only for students but also for potential employers of students.

Dr. Lisa Stevenson, the director of instruction for the school district, said the rate of chronic absenteeism has increased for the district, as it has for districts across the country.

The problem does not just apply to school districts either.

“It is an issue for a lot of employers and more public school systems are paying more attention to the impact it has,” she said. “We are looking at ways to make it better.”

Stevenson said businesses in Marshalltown have made comments about how frequently employees are absent.

“Students who are encouraged to not miss school, carry that habit with them,” she said. “They become strong employees who are valued by their employers.”

Roughly 15 percent of students in the Marshalltown system have a problem with chronic absenteeism.

It is defined by missing 10 percent of the school days. Stevenson said that means if a district has 180 days of school, a student is considered chronically absent if 18 are missed. Marshalltown has 174 days, she said, so 17.4 days missed would be considered chronic. By this time of year, she said there has been roughly 80 days of school, so any student that misses eight days is chronic.

Not all chronic absences are the result of playing hooky. Stevenson said there are issues of illness or family trips; perhaps there are problems with transportation. When chronic absenteeism is occurring, officials in the school district will have meetings with parents to find out the reason and then work out a plan. There are situations where a student is skipping school on purpose and it becomes a matter of truancy.

If parents of the truant student do not work with school officials, such as signing attendance contracts, then the district will enlist the help of the Marshall County attorney.

“That could involve charges being filed,” Stevenson said. “That process is used when needed. We look at whether or not the family has cooperated. We just want to improve the situation.”

The effects of missing too many days of school is primarily reflected in the education of the student, she said.

“They are not able to reach their potential because they are not there to hear the rich classroom discussions,” Stevenson said. “They miss the opportunities of having an individual teacher help them.”

Plus there is the secondary effect of social and emotional loss.

“Those students do not have strong friendships and a feeling like they don’t belong,” she said. “They are also less active in extracurricular activities.”

Stevenson said it is very important for parents and guardians to understand how important it is for a child to be in school.

There are ways parents or guardians can home can help make sure their children do not miss school. Stevenson suggested making doctor’s appointments and visits to grandparents outside of school hours whenever possible.

“We encourage people to talk to us so we can be supportive in the process,” she said. “We have the same goal as you – to help your child. We want to be as prepared as we can be. School has to come first.”

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