In an effort to combat a growing trend in school absenteeism, Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) has introduced legislation that would create attendance review teams in districts and schools where an absenteeism problem has been identified. The bill would direct the state Department of Education to establish a chronic absenteeism prevention and intervention plan by Jan. 1, 2020.
"Students who are frequently absent are far more likely to miss important learning opportunities, are less likely to stay engaged, and are of far greater risk of dropping out," said Representative McNamara, who chairs the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee. "According to the most recent Kids Count Factbook, 22 percent of middle school students and 32 percent of high school students were considered truant by the Department of Education, which defines truancy as 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year. This legislation would strongly combat this troubling trend."
The bill would require an attendance review team in any school district with a chronic absenteeism rate of 10 percent or greater. It would also require a team at any individual school with a chronic absenteeism rate of 15 percent or greater.
"These attendance review teams, which would meet at least once a month, would specifically investigate the reasons for the absenteeism," said Representative McNamara. "We need to develop a community response that does a better job of interacting among students, teachers and parents, not only identifying what works in reducing absenteeism, but what doesn't work. Identifying strategies that improve attendance has to be part of any school intervention."
The act would also direct the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to include each school district's absenteeism rate within the report on school discipline that is presented annually to the General Assembly, and to include the school or district's absenteeism rate in any report card or evaluation of the effectiveness of a school or district.
The legislation, which is cosponsored by Representatives Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln), Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) and John W. Lyle Jr. (R-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket), has been referred to the House Committee on Health Education and Welfare.