Marion County has a school attendance problem

Students in the Marion County School System have an attendance problem. The problem was revealed last week at the Marion County Board of education meeting as Patrick Sutton, a supervisor in the school system, gave a presentation on chronic absenteeism to kick-off September’s “School Attendance Month” (see story on page --).
During the presentation, Sutton revealed some disturbing numbers regarding school attendance in Marion County. An average of 24%--almost a quarter--of students in the Marion County School System missed 15 or more days of school during the 2018/19 school year.
At first glance, those numbers may seem low, but a closer look reveals that it’s a major problem for Marion County.
 During his presentation, Sutton, citing national statistics, said that 64% of students with good attendance in kindergarten and first grade can read on grade level when they finish the third grade. Only 41% who are chronically absent in either grade can read on grade level. If a student is chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade, only 17% of those kids can read on grade level at the end of third grade.
Those numbers become especially poignant, knowing, as Sutton revealed, that over 35% of Hackleburg Elementary School students missed 18 or more days of school during the 2018/19 school year. A large portion of those students will fall behind and most likely stay behind.
As Sutton stated in his presentation, once a student gets behind, it becomes harder for them to catch up with their classmates, thus leading to higher dropout rates later in high school.
  Sutton said it’s especially important to keep students in the classroom in September because half the number of students who miss 2 to 4 days in September went on to miss a month or more of school. Nine out of 10 students who missed more than four days in September became chronically absent during the year and those students missed an average of 70 days out of a 180 day school year.
Sutton said he is working with the schools’ principals to create incentives to decrease chronic absenteeism and keep students in the classroom. Sutton said he is talking with local judges and the district attorney to implement a fine of $100 to the parents or guardians of students who accrue seven unexcused absences. We hope this avenue can be avoided.
Sutton also said great strides are being made in the Helping Families Initiative (HFI) to discover the reason kids are not getting to school and discover ways to help families solve those issues, including monetary help.
We hope Sutton, and local agencies involved in the HFI, can find ways to get students into the classroom without taking money out of their pockets.
But more than anything, we hope parents and guardians realize the importance of getting their kids into the classroom because the amount of federal money that goes into each of the state’s school districts is determined by attendance numbers. If the kids are not attending school in those districts, less money goes to those schools and that means fewer teachers and fewer high-quality programs that are beneficial to students will be available.  
 If there is a problem with getting your child to school, that problem can be worked out and solved.
But if you as a parent or guardian have a vested interest in your child’s future and you want them to succeed, please don’t fail them by not seeing that they are on time and in school. It will be a habit that will benefit all of us far into the future.