Serving the Numbers, Not the Students

With the aid of our General Assembly, Richmond has abandoned its truant students in order to improve its numbers.

We are reminded by a piece on NPR that you can’t teach students who don’t attend school. 

The General Assembly noticed that problem awhile back.  In 1999, they amended Code § 22.1-258 to install requirements for truancy responses:

  • Any unexcused absence: Contact with the parent;
  • 5 unexcused absences: Attendance Plan;
  • 6 unexcused absences: Conference with Parents;
  • 7 unexcused absences: Prosecute parents or file CHINS petition.

That was massively unpopular with our public school bureaucracy.  The Board of “Education” responded by requiring the divisions to report the number of students for whom a conference was scheduled and the aggregate daily attendance.  Notwithstanding its duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth” the Board cheerfully ignored the other requirements of the statute.

Richmond followed that lead.  After ten absences they sent the parents a letter.  They did very little else, even as their truancy rate exploded.

In 2018, the Generous Assembly amended § 22.1-258 to gut the enforcement mechanism: Now after ten unexcused absences, the attendance officer may prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition.  The attendance officer is no longer responsible for the five- and six-absence plans and conferences.

Richmond is responding by firing all its seventeen attendance officers and replacing them with seven “attendance liaisons.”

(The statute still provides that “[w]here no attendance officer is appointed by the School Board, the division superintendent or his designee shall act as attendance officer.”  Presumably these “liaisons” now will be the superintendent-designated attendance officers.)

On the 2017 data, 4,998 Richmond students had ten or more unexcused absences.  That’s 294 per attendance officer. 

Who can think that the truancy situation will improve with “liaisons” who should have, on those data, 714 cases each?  But, of course, those “liaisons” don’t have to actually do anything so we might wonder why we’re paying even for seven.

(BTW: At the old limit of seven, there were 7,234 students with 7 or more unexcused absences in Richmond in 2017.  That would be 1,033 per “liaison” if they were actually dealing with truancy.)

We don’t have to dig far to unearth the reasons for this deliberate disservice to schoolchildren: Students who are not in school can’t be taught.  Students who are truant frequently drop out.  Students who have dropped out cannot lower the SOL pass rates.  Indeed, if the division can get rid of these troublesome children in middle school, they won’t even count against the cohort graduation rate.

This is win/win for the schools and the Board of “Education.”  Never mind those inconvenient children.