EAST PROVIDENCE — Absenteeism has been a bane of the East Providence School District in recent years, the percentage increase up to nearly 10 percent of the entire population on a reoccurring …
EAST PROVIDENCE — Absenteeism has been a bane of the East Providence School District in recent years, the percentage increase up to nearly 10 percent of the entire population on a reoccurring basis since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Central Office and administrators at each of the department's 11 buildings have been attempting to curb the rising numbers, which went from just around 7 percent pre-pandemic to the current double-figure tally as of the close of the 2021-22 term.
The School Committee along with Superintendent Dr. Sandra Forand and her staff recently reviewed the district's attendance policy, the former giving final approval to a revised set of guidelines at its Tuesday, Nov. 14, meeting.
According to a recent statement co-signed and issued by Forand, School Committee Chairperson Jenni Furtado and Mayor Bob DaSilva, East Providence's daily attendance figures fell from 93.1% in 2018-2019 to 90.8% in 2021-2022, As the trio noted in the release, though that figure may appear to be rather benign, in the '21-22 for instance, students in the district were in arrears nearly 20,000 days of instruction based on a formula of 5,000 students x 2.3% x 180 school days.
In response, school administrators and the Committee came up with a revised 11-point policy, which reads as follows:
(DEFINITIONS — Excused Absences: Includes a student’s participation in an approved school-sponsored activity, documented college visits, suspension days, religious holidays, bereavement, a doctor-excused illness or injury, (doctor’s, dentist’s or other healthcare provider's written excuse must be submitted on the following day the student returns to school no later than two (2) school days following the absence), a school nurse-teacher excused illness or injury, court appearance, military deployment event or dismissal from school by school Principal or designee. Parent permission, in and of itself, is not recognized as a legitimate excuse for absences. Excused absences count towards attendance policy limits.
Unexcused Absences: Includes, but not limited to any absence in which the student and/or parent/guardian fails to comply with the District’s attendance policy and procedures and includes any and all absences not listed as excused absences above. Unexcused absences count toward attendance policy limits
Tardiness: Being tardy is defined as arriving after school begins. Students arriving by bus who are delayed are not considered tardy. Parents/guardians, as well as, students should know the start and end time of their respective school day. Tardy days will follow the same guidelines as excused and unexcused absences; Early Dismissal: An early dismissal is considered any time when the student is not able to complete the full day of school. Early dismissals will follow the same guidelines as excused and unexcused absences.
Chronic Absenteeism: A student is considered chronically absent when they are purposely out of school without cause and have missed 10% of the school year.)
East Providence is far from alone in the struggle to get and keep kids in classrooms. According to numbers released by the Rhode Island Department of Education during the just completed 2022-2023 school year, approximately 28.9% of students state-wide were chronically absent, which again sounds good but it also follows a recent high of 34.1% from '21-22. In city, the chronic percentage from last year was 1,390 of its 5,052 total student population or 27.46%.
At last week's meeting while giving the Committee an update of activities at their buildings, the principals at the district's two middle school's — Martin's Laurie Marchand and Riverside's Dr. Julie Giangiulio — both broached the attendance issue, specifically those chronically missing school.
(By the aforementioned definition, chronic absenteeism is when a child misses over 18 days per term.)
Each have experienced a dramatic fall in the number of so-called chronically absent pupils, nearly slicing the percentage in half in both cases.
At Martin, the percentage of chronically absent students through the first quarter of the 2023-24 term is 15%, a significant decrease from a high of what was at one time 30.7%
Said Marchand, "We're incredibly proud...We really celebrate this every single day. We have a lot of gains to make and room to grow, but we will celebrate that."
At Riverside, the percentage has been trimmed slightly more than half over the same time period, from 28% to 15%
Said Giangiulio of her building's drop, "Like Martin, we're really proud of that."
Both principals said they and their teachers have been stressing the importance of daily attendance to students, parents and guardians, and have attempted to create more and better dialogue around the subject.
Neither attendance figures at the elementary buildings nor at the high school were broached at last week's Committee, but the superintendent indicated she was pleased with the numbers coming from Martin and Riverside as well as the district as a whole.
Said Forand of the improvements at the middle school level, "Those are great numbers as far as chronic absenteeism goes. I was looking at the numbers in the district today, so keep up the great work."
(Updated, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 10 p.m.) Reached just before the holiday last week, Principal Bill Black provided a positive update, noting the high school's rate had dropped by 7% or approximately 47 fewer students were chronically absent compared to this time last year.
According to the most recent RIDE figures for '22-23, EPHS had 667 students chronically absent of its 1,654 total enrollment of 40.44% last term.