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School district launches campaign to reduce chronic absenteeism

By Jeri Chadwell

The Washoe County School District is launching an attendance awareness campaign in the face of rising chronic absenteeism, particularly among high school students.

Chronic absenteeism is federally defined as missing 10% or more of school days. That amounts to two or more days per month. The percent of high school students who are chronically absent in Washoe County is 18%.

District officials said they recognize the ways the pandemic has affected absenteeism, particularly for older students who may have taken on greater responsibilities to their households like caring for younger siblings or taking on jobs to help their households make ends meet.

“Additionally, students who self-identify as African American, Pacific Islander and without a permanent home have struggled to be in school every day. However, with the support and care of our educators, staff, families and community partners, we believe our students are achieving success,” said Rechelle Murillo, WCSD unity support coordinator.

The new campaign is called Make Every Day Count and features videos with current students speaking about the importance of attending school and the ways they’ve overcome their own problems with absenteeism.

“Attending school every day can help students feel better about a school and themselves, because they reconnect with their friends and their teachers when they are in school. They also gain valuable emotional support during these unpredictable and uncertain times,” Murillo said.

Absences due to COVID-19 do not count towards chronic absenteeism.

“Also, students who are excluded will have access to temporary distance learning plans,” Murillo said. “Each school has developed its plan to serve its students better. Other absences can be exempt if verification documentation is provided by medical, mental or behavioral health professionals.”

Students need to request makeup work, so they don’t fall behind or receive failing grades on assignments for any days they miss instruction. Students have the number of days they were absent, plus one day from the day they received the makeup work to complete it.

D’Lisa Crain, director of family-school partnerships for WCSD, provided some tips that can help families avoid absences.

“For younger families, and even for middle school students, helping kids get organized the night before,” can help, she said. That includes getting backpacks, clothes, masks, water bottles and other things they’ll need at school ready the night before.  

“That also helps parents to feel a little bit less chaotic in the mornings when you’re trying to get out the door to work,” Crain added.

She also recommended setting bedtimes for younger students.

“Elementary kids need between nine and 12 hours of sleep each night,” Crain said, adding that middle and high school students need between eight and 10 hours of sleep.

“So, for older students setting boundaries with technology and cell phones is really important, maybe putting those cell phones in a common space that’s not in their bedrooms at night so kids aren’t tempted to scroll on social media, so that they have the mental energy to be ready to learn the next day,” Crain said.

Learn more about attendance rules and tips and advice here.

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