Petersburg schools launch attendance campaign to curb chronic absenteeism

PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) – Over the weekend, Petersburg City Public School administrators and teachers launched a campaign to combat chronic truancy in the classroom.

Teachers and administrators focused on neighborhoods of students at risk of truancy by going door-to-door and talking directly to them and their parents in their homes.

“We were able to catch a lot of kids back. We also did some targeted visits as well with students we know we want back who have not been successful in school,” Tyrus Lyles said.

Lyles is the Director of Student Support Services for the Petersburg schools. He says that over the weekend, some of the feedback he got from students and parents was that they wanted to learn to be more engaged so students would be more willing to go to school.

“We’re really working on some things within our school division to make learning more fun and engaging,” Lyles said. “The idea is to work as a partnership, not consultative, so we are trying to work together. What can we do as a team to get your child to school?”

But one parent told NBC12 Wednesday that while the attendance campaign is a good start, he believes parents of chronically absent students should be held more accountable.

Currently, when a student is absent, the school division has an automated phone call sent to the student’s parents to tell them their child was absent from school.

“Kids leave school and do what they want to do. “They are not paying attention and half of them don’t even care if their children have homework,” said the parent. “So it will always be that way as long as nobody disciplines their kids and lets them do what they want to do, that’s the way it’s going to stay.”

Currently, all Petersburg schools are accredited, but Petersburg High School is the only fully accredited school. Vernon Johns Middle School and four other elementary schools across the city are conditionally accredited, meaning they still must meet specific standards set by the state. One of them is the low percentage of absences.

Lyles says state guidelines dictate that absenteeism for a school division should not exceed 15 percent, which the division is currently above. Additionally, a student is considered chronically absent if he or she misses more than two days of school per month, which equates to about 18 days or 10 percent of an entire school year.

“We want to make sure we don’t do that because our accreditation relies on our participation, so we went into community research, talking to parents and community members about the importance of being in school every day,” Lyles said.

Lyles says the school division is seeing higher rates of chronic absenteeism in middle schools than in elementary schools, but if those rates continue, it will affect the entire school system.

“Two days is too much. If you miss two days every month, you risk going without a break, which is a total of 18 days for the school year, not being able to be accredited as a school district or as a school,” Lyles said.

The St. Petersburg School Board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 2, at Petersburg High School, where a detailed report on absenteeism rates will be presented.


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