Lawrence School District debating ways to keep seniors in class

Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 9:58 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (KCTV) - The Lawrence School District is searching for ways to keep their oldest students in class.

The numbers are startling. At Lawrence High School 49 percent of the senior class last academic year fell under the category of chronic absenteeism. The district superintendent described the problem as a nationwide issue that will require an all-hands-on-deck response.

“Schools are back in session but our students are not coming back,” said Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis. “There was a poll given to close to 200 superintendents throughout the country and about 76 to 77 percent of them said chronic absenteeism is a major issue in their school district.”

A report just came out revealing nearly 30 percent of the district’s students were chronically absent during the 2022-23 academic year. At the high school level, 39 percent of all students fell under that category, defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of the school year.

“Prior to the pandemic we were around maybe 11 or 12 percent of students that were chronically absent,” said Lewis. “As of this last year, we’re around 30 percent of our students that are chronically absent. That’s a huge concern.”

Jeanne Averill taught English and Theater at Lawrence High School for 36 years. She’s shocked to hear those numbers and fearful for the future knowing how important it is for students to be in the building.

“To learn what’s going on in school, to get your education, your degree for socialization,” Averill said, “to have a person older than them in their lives that can watch out for them and care for them and know when they’re there and when they’re not (is important).”

Lewis said the district is trying to get creative with incentives for students to increase attendance. The district is also analyzing data to learn what areas of support families need most -- like transportation. But he says at the end of the day this is the bottom line.

“Most importantly, it’s about connecting attendance to academics and we know that students that miss a large number of days are more likely to not read by third grade and are four times more likely to drop out of high school,” Lewis said.

The District Attorney’s Office is also joining in on the conversation with the school board. Lewis wanted to remind families there are serious consequences for parents who don’t ensure their kids get to school.

“Ultimately, they could face jail time,” Lewis said.