September is National Attendance Awareness Month, designed to emphasize the need for students to maintain consistent attendance in order to achieve academic success.
Haverhill School Committee members, however, were shocked and dismayed last Thursday to learn about a fifth or more of Haverhill students are chronically absent. Speaking to the committee, Haverhill Public Schools’ Supervisor of Attendance Lorna Marchant presented pre-pandemic statistics about local chronic absenteeism that Mayor James J. Fiorentini found shocking.
“In March, prior to the shutdown, we were at 19.3% which was four percentage points lower than 2018, Marchant said. Fiorentini responded, 19.3% of our students are chronically absent? Wow!” Marchand noted the numbers were below the state average.
Marchant explained chronic absenteeism refers to a student who misses 10% or more of the school year and, she noted, since COVID-19, the problem has only gotten worse.
School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. provided a more recent update.
“That 20% number you gave, that’s an outdated number. There was an article about a month and a half ago that listed all of the districts and it listed Haverhill at 29.8% for the 28th worst chronic absenteeism in the state of Massachusetts,” he said.
Wood said these new figures put Haverhill above the state average regarding absenteeism.
School Superintendent Margaret Marotta expressed her belief the confusion caused by the pandemic has caused students to become lax regarding school attendance.
“We’re concerned that kids are going to develop habits. They were out because of quarantines or because somebody in the house was sick, but now they’ve gotten accustomed to taking off five straight days every couple of months,” she said.
Acknowledging the problem has worsened, Marchant said the administration is taking a two-pronged approach to reducing those numbers, focusing on education and intervention. She said that approach has manifested in the form of posters being hung in schools and throughout the community, encouraging students to attend regularly and additional staff being hired to talk with parents about the benefits of regular school attendance.
The mayor responded by asking Marchant and the superintendent to research what other school districts have done to address the problem and report their findings back to the Committee.