Truancy is a pertinent issue in public education. However, the American public education attendance policy, specifically Fayette County’s, creates disparate policies for neurodivergent and struggling students of many backgrounds — establishing unfair expectations and results.
Truancy has been highly correlated with delinquent activities such as drugs, dropping out, and low educational aspirations. Research done by Kristi Sharp at SoapBoxie claims that truancy has been found to have severe consequences for students. In the short-term, truancy is linked to increased delinquent and criminal activity. In the long-term, truancy can lead to poor physical and mental health, continued family poverty, and a heightened risk of addiction and incarceration.
Students from troubled households and with neurodevelopmental delays have been recorded to have an elevated risk of truancy. A study out of India revealed that family and school problems both act as a truancy-causing factor among students, however, family problems are more effective in causing truancy among students. In addition, 2018 National Health Statistics Reports found that students with ADHD, autism or developmental delays are twice as likely to be chronically absent compared to kids without these conditions. This links truancy and its associated risk factors to students with neurological delays and troubled households who are truant. So, how does Fayette County public schools handle this?
According to Fayette County, “any student who has been absent from school without valid excuse for three days or more, or tardy without valid excuse on three days or more, is considered truant. A pupil who has been reported truant two or more times is considered a habitual truant”.
Fayette County’s Attorney Office has teamed with Fayette County Public Schools and other community partners in order to offer preventive programs such as the Truancy Intervention Program (TIP) and the Truancy Diversion Project (TDP). The programs identify families with attendance issues and invite them to participate in a monthly meeting at their child’s school, wherein parents meet with: an Assistant County Attorney, school personnel and an Assistant Director of Pupil Personnel for Fayette County Schools. Parents are provided with a current attendance record and academic progress report for their child. Then, parents meet with the team and discuss how to remove any educational obstacles.
This, however, does not address the underlying causes of truancy, such as poverty, unstable housing, or mental health issues. While TIP and TDP may help some families address attendance issues, they are not effective in addressing the root causes of truancy for all students. The policy implies that the threat of prosecution is the primary motivation for parents to improve their child’s attendance, rather than a genuine desire to support their child’s education. This approach is punitive, and not effective in promoting long-term changes in attendance patterns. The statement also does not address the potential impact of these programs on students with disabilities or other special needs, who may face additional barriers to regular attendance.
Moreover, it establishes and often enforces punitive measures that establish unrealistic expectations to students in disadvantaged positions — making a disparate outcome similar to the No Child Left Behind Act. They both place disproportionate undue pressure on struggling students. I cite the No Child Left Behind Act, even though it was officially repealed in 2015 with the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), because they both acts had well meaning intentions, but disparate outcomes
To address truancy, Fayette County could incorporate community outreach programs similar to Project Connect in Baltimore, MD, which provides tutoring, counseling, and healthcare services; Truancy Intervention Project (TIP) in Cincinnati, Ohio, which offers case management and supportive services; or Project U-Turn in Philadelphia, PA, which provides academic support, mentoring, and career counseling. Fayette County could even develop alternative learning programs that cater to the needs of truant students, such as online learning, vocational training, or other alternative education options. The obstacles struggling students face are seemingly insurmountable, but they don’t have to be. Together, we can bridge the gap and reduce truancy, making our schools truly a place for all to learn and grow.
Sawyer Mustopoh is a poet, lover of the outdoors, and author of his own destiny. He is pursuing a future in disparate impact law and fair housing.