Northampton School Board Takes Attendance Seriously

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton school board members discussed concerns about the school division’s attendance policies at their May 9 work session.

School board member Jo Ann Molera works in the Northampton County court system and has heard the excuses parents give the judge for their children’s truancy.  

“Some of the things you hear coming out of the parents’ mouths are just mind boggling,” she said.

Molera mentioned one parent who promised to bring her child to school more often, but the student was tardy on 14 occasions, arriving at school at 1:30 p.m. each day.

But Northampton’s attendance problems are not due to a lack of effort.

Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said the school division’s attendance policies are aligned with the standards set by the Virginia Department of Education.

Director of Special Programs Keren Plowden said Northampton has been recognized as one of the few school divisions in the commonwealth that has made strides in improving attendance, particularly for special needs students.

Attendance has improved across the division, with Northampton High School making the most progress. In the 2017-2018 school year, the number of NHS students who missed 18 or more days was less than half the number of students who missed that many days in the previous year.

Molera also has heard a parent say, “The government should not be in charge of educating our children. If parents do not want to send their children to school, they should not have to.”

But “as a public school system, we are obligated to educate the kids that come into our doors,” Molera explained.

Lawrence added, “Society holds school systems accountable for so many things,” but “there’s nothing we can do if (students are) not in the building.”

“If we had more resources, would we do better? Yes,” he said.

Northampton schools have an employee who works with elementary school students and parents to decrease truancy.

School board member Nancy Proto suggested possibly budgeting a second position to address truancy at the middle and high school level.

Plowden said the school division’s current goal is to target elementary school truancy and curtail the problem in its early stages.