OGDEN — The Ogden School District is fighting chronic absenteeism this school year.
Ogden School District Superintendent Rich Nye wrote a letter to parents encouraging them to make sure their children get to school every day of the week. The letter, posted to the district’s Facebook page Nov. 28, asks parents to set regular bedtimes for their children and schedule appointments and vacations during non-school times, among other things.
“We encourage and expect students to attend every day,” Nye said. “We know that just a few missed days can add up, resulting in too much lost learning time and putting your child behind in school.”
Assistant Superintendent Chad Carpenter said in both email and phone interviews while there may be more reasons to miss school during the winter months, like illness or vacations, it’s important for students to attend school if at all possible.
“We’re really trying to message to everyone, whether it’s excused and you’re with your family or not, you’re still missing critical instruction,” he said.
The number of students in the district who are chronically absent has yo-yoed in recent years according to Utah State Board of Education data. About 17 percent of students were chronically absent in 2012, a rate that increased annually until peaking at 29 percent in 2015. That number dropped to 18 percent the following year, increased again to about 21 percent in 2017 and reached about 22 percent in 2018.
A student is considered chronically absent if they miss school 10 percent of the time or more. Carpenter said this is the equivalent of to two or more absences per month, or 18 for the whole school year whether they’re excused or unexcused.
Compared to the rest of the state, Ogden’s numbers aren’t notably high. In 2018, Roots Charter School had a chronic absenteeism rate of 68 percent, the highest in the state. Excluding charter schools, the Carbon School District has the highest chronic absenteeism rate of 33 percent.
Utah County-based Academy of Science and Success Academy both had chronic absenteeism of less than 1 percent in 2018. At about 3 percent, the Morgan School District fared the best of school districts in the state.
Carpenter said it’s critical for students to attend every day of school because those who miss critical instruction regularly can fall behind.
“Whether our chronic absenteeism rate is better than other districts is irrelevant, because it is currently too high for us and we want to lower our chronic absenteeism rate dramatically,” he said.
The district’s nontraditional school, George Washington High School, had a 47 percent chronic absenteeism rate in 2018, the highest in the district. The rest of the district’s schools sat between 14 and 30 percent except for Ogden High School, which had the best rate: 7 percent.
Carpenter said Ogden High has started to focus more attention on improving attendance.
“I know the faculty and staff believes in building relationships with students and providing rich academic opportunities for all,” he said.
Each year a student is chronically absent, the odds of dropping out of school entirely go up 2.21 times on average according to a 2012 brief from the University of Utah’s Education Policy Center.
Carpenter said the Ogden School District formed a work group at the end of the previous school year to focus on attendance awareness, taking attendance regularly and consistent and clear attendance terminology. The group also worked to create a universal approach to the way school officials respond problems like absenteeism.
These sorts of interactions are known as tier 1 interventions. Tier 2 and tier 3 interventions get more specialized on a case-by-case basis to help a student attend school more often.
“We really think if we can build that (tier 1 level) strong we’ll be better equipped to focus in on tier 2 and tier 3 interventions,” Carpenter said.
The district also holds school attendance competitions and awareness campaigns in an effort to communicate the importance of being in class, regardless of age.
Per Utah law, a school administrator can issue a “Notice of Compulsory Education Violation” to a parent or guardian of a student who is between 6 and 14 years old if they’re absent without a valid excuse at least five times during the school year. The notice asks parents to meet with school officials to correct the attendance problem and states it is a Class B misdemeanor if parents fail to meet with school administrators or fail to prevent their child from missing school an additional five days.
A similar system is in place for students age 12 to 16, but once said student has 10 or more unexcused absences they are referred to juvenile court.
Carpenter said the district’s schools try hard to stay on top of unexcused absences.
“In a lot of cases, schools are making personal phone calls, messaging parents and even going on home visits when students miss too much school,” he said.