Lawrence school board to hear report on chronic absenteeism, possible interventions

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The Lawrence school board on Monday will hear a report about chronic absence rates within the district and learn about proposed solutions.

Chronic absenteeism refers to students who have missed 10% or more of school days due to absences for all reasons. According to the report, 29.7% of elementary, middle and high school students were chronically absent during the 2021-22 academic year. The number has increased over the past three years, according to the report.

High school students have the highest rates with 39% of all high schoolers and almost half (49%) of seniors being chronically absent.

Within their presentation Monday, staff members will also break down demographic data in relation to attendance. 

The report states Native American or Alaska Native and Black students were the most chronically absent racial subgroups, with 46% of Native American or Alaska Native students and 38% of Black students qualifying. White and Asian students showed the least chronic absenteeism, with 18% of Asian students and 26% of white students qualifying.

According to the report, systemic barriers have always caused attendance issues among students, but absenteeism has been exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today’s high levels of chronic absence reflect educational and societal inequities that existed before COVID-19 and often have been intensified during the pandemic,” the report states. “Students living in poverty, students of color, students whose families speak languages other than English, and students with disabilities are more likely to be chronically absent from school – and typically lack the resources and opportunities to make up for lost time in the classroom.”

The report suggests possible interventions to improve attendance, including calling home and developing attendance contracts with students and parents to build plans of action.

It also includes a section of a handout from Attendance Works, Kaiser Permanente and the National Association of School Nurses that says children can even go to school if they “Have eye drainage without fever, eye pain or eyelid redness,” or “Have head lice,” among other symptoms. “Though they are annoying and should be treated, lice are not a reason to exclude a child from school,” the handout states.

View the full report for Monday attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs.

In other business

• Needs assessment: The school board on Monday will hold its final review of the district’s needs assessment as part of the budget process. The assessments, required by the state, evaluate various student needs at each school building.

View the report for Monday attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs.

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• JUUL settlement: The district is eligible to receive $85,573 as part of a class action lawsuit against JUUL investors. That amount is in addition to the $284,125 settlement offer the board approved (before attorney fees and costs) in March. School board members will consider approving the settlement offer as part of their consent agenda.

The school board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/@USD497, and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available on BoardDocs.

To give public comment during the board meeting, sign up before the meeting starts either in person or by emailing PublicComment@usd497.org. Commenters may request to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

The board will look to approve the district’s 2023-24 budget after holding public hearings — one to potentially exceed the revenue neutral rate, and the other to approve the budget itself — scheduled for Monday, Sept. 11.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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