BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas met with Mayor Tom Richards earlier this week to begin developing a comprehensive plan to address truancy in the schools.
“Truancy is one of the most serious challenges we are facing,” Vargas said in an interview earlier today. “Each day we have thousands and thousands of students who are not in school.”
As of three weeks ago, the district had 4,347 students who missed 20 days of school or more this year. Vargas said he wants to develop an approach to reduce truancy involving the city, county, faith, and business communities. The new initiative would launch in the fall, he said.
“The first thing we have to do is support the child, and the family, too, if that’s needed,” Vargas said.
Truancy is unexcused absences unrelated to illnesses or injuries.
Currently, the district sends a letter home to the truant’s parent or guardian, calls the home, and makes visits. But school officials can go as far as filing papers in family court on a student’s behalf. Most of the time the reasons for the truancy stem from a wide range of social and emotional problems that city children confront daily, such as stress and lack of sleep, Vargas said.
The worst truancy problems are in the elementary grades, which may surprise people. More 400 district kindergartners have been truant this year. And the truancy in the earliest grades is in some ways the most serious, causing a dramatic impact on a student’s academic outcome. The absences cause delays in reading and math, for example, and that virtually guarantees the student will be unable to do grade-level work when they reach high school.
“The statistics are very clear about this,” Vargas said.