Bill would address chronic student absentee rates

Karen Yi, Asbury Park Press 

A bill meant to curb chronic student absenteeism cleared an Assembly education panel on Monday, paving the way for schools to more holistically intervene when children routinely miss class.

The bill, proposed by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), would require schools in which 10 percent of students enrolled are chronically absent to convene an absentee coalition to work toward improving attendance. The coalition must include at least one parent and one teacher, and devise an action plan to address causes and solutions.

“Every day a student misses school sets them back a bit. When it is a chronic occurrence, it can set them up for academic failure,” said Vainieri Huttle. “It is easy to jump to conclusions and assume these students are just not interested in school, but the reasons can be more complex like an unstable home life or a lack of transportation. Having a coalition of people who can step in and get to the root of the problem can help cut down on school absences and keep students on the right track.”

As part of the bill, the Commissioner of Education must also include the percentage of students chronically absent in the School Report Cards data.

“Chronic absenteeism not only hurts students, but interrupts the learning process,  as teachers must dedicate more time to absentee students to get them up to speed,” added Vainieri Huttle. “School districts with high absenteeism rates that made a concerted effort to thwart absenteeism among their students have seen their absentee rates drop. With the right focus, it can be done.”

Lawmakers have tried to tackle absenteeism after a report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey found that about 10 percent of students in the state missed more than 10 percent of the 2013-2014 school year.

Chronic absenteeism means a student misses at least 10 percent of the total number of school days in the year.