George County School District working to address high truancy rates

Mississippi is facing a statewide issue surrounding chronic absenteeism in the classroom.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 6:46 PM CDT
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LUCEDALE, Miss. (WLOX) - Mississippi is facing a statewide issue surrounding chronic absenteeism in the classroom. One school district is working overtime to combat the growing problem.

George County School District is two months into the 2023 school year. While grades are up, attendance is low across the board.

George County High Principal Sid Taylor says the number of absences, both excused and unexcused, climbs each year.

“So, there’s about 8% of our students every day that are absent, and then some of those are actually truant,” said Principal Taylor. “They have more than five absences.”

Taylor says students are required to provide proper documentation to excuse their absence.

“If they don’t provide us with an excuse, either medical or parent, then that is put in the gradebook as an unexcused absence. They receive a zero for any assignment that they miss that day.”

The string of low grades impacts their overall GPA and could cause them to flunk or not be eligible for graduation.

“In the high school level, you have state tests that you have to pass in order to graduate high school,” explained math teacher Ashley Brazell. “I tell my students from day one that attendance is critical because you have to pass the state test in order to graduate.”

District Superintendent Wade Whitney says the reasons vary as to why there’s such a high number of no-shows.

“You can’t just put your finger on one thing,” said Whitney. “Here’s the process in our district: the first five unexcused, you get a phone call. When you get to ten, you get a phone call and a letter. When you get to twelve, you get a final letter, and then it’s turned over to the judicial system.”

Whitney says last year, 1,100 students in the district reportedly had 12 or more unexcused absences. They hope to decrease the alarming truancy rate with a new partnership.

“We’ve partnered with the compulsory attendance office,” Whitney added. “We have partnered with the judicial system and we’ve partnered with law enforcement to enforce chronic absenteeism in our county.”

The George County School District will review the joint cooperation at the end of the year to see any improvement.

Mississippi has a statewide average of a 24% truancy rate, in which many districts are hoping to improve.

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