Schools see increase in truancy among remote learners. 

January 20, 2021

Schools see increase in truancy among remote learners. 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

The education system has faced many challenges over the past 10 months of the pandemic. One of the consequences of offering the option of remote learning is an increase in truancy. Local school officials have noticed a disturbing pattern of frequent absences by students who have chosen the online/remote option. Students who have chosen to attend school remotely are still required to participate on their courses. 

A student is truant when he/she stays out of school without permission. Students who are ill with the proper proof of illness (doctor’s note or communication from a parent) is not truant unless the absences are excessive, according to Mason County Central Principal Jeff Tuka. 

“I would say overall absence is up,” Tuka said. “We have attendance policies here at MCC where we try to assure our students have good attendance. Overall, we are not seeing increased truancy numbers with students who have chosen to be in the traditional face-to-face school setting. The issue is with the students who have chosen to learn remotely.”

Both Tuka and Mason County Eastern High School/Middle School Principal Mark Forner agreed that every school district in Mason County and within the West Shore Educational Service District (Mason, Lake, and Oceana counties) has seen increases in excessive absences among remote learning students. While the problem is prominent in all grade levels, it is worst in the high school grades of nine through 12, Tuka said. 

“This is not just a problem in Mason County but a problem all over the country,” Tuka said. “But, rural areas like this are showing a pattern of truancy being even worse.” 

“Truancy has always been a problem but COVID seemed to give some families and kids permission to think it’s OK not to be in school,” Forner said. “The state of Michigan says that we have to still account for those students who have chosen remote learning. It’s not easy if the student wants to disengage.” 

Forner said schools and students are required to make a minimum of two two-way contacts per week. 

“There have been several instances when I or the superintendent (Paul Shoup) have had to go to a student’s home and knock on their door to check on them.” 

Tuka said Mason County Central has utilized its newly created school resource officer position with Scottville Police Department, to make contact with many students. 

Scottville Police Chief Matt Murphy said communication between parents and their children seems to typically be the core issue with this recent pattern of truancy. 

“There are many people who are struggling through this pandemic,” Murphy said. “When there isn’t communication with the schools, nobody really knows what’s going on with those kids. Often both parents are working and they aren’t able to be there to make sure their kids are getting the school work completed. Our goal is to always make sure the kids are successful and sometimes we need to offer them some guidance.”

Tuka said the parents often are not aware of the issue until contact from the school or police is made. 

By law, students must attend school. Parents whose children are excessively absent could face criminal prosecution. Tuka said his school has not had to take it that far yet, however. 

Forner agreed that the school making contact typically resolves the issue. 

When the state banned face-to-face learning in high schools in November through the end of 2020 there was an even greater increase in students who chose to disengage, Tuka said. 

“We saw a big increase in students who didn’t participate in their classes during the recent shutdown,” Tuka said. “This has caused some major challenges for those students since they have returned to face-to-face classes. High school students must earn 25 credits to graduate. If they are not attending classes and do not pass their classes, then they cannot graduate. This is a recipe for having to take summer classes or alternative education.”

Tuka said he sent a newsletter out to parents and students following the winter break informing them that many students had made some unwise decisions during the shutdown. 

“I basically said that many of the students chose to treat the shutdown as an extended Christmas break and that they likely didn’t think disengaging from their classes would affect them. Now we are seeing students who have fallen behind academically and teachers, who have already been stretched to the limit during this pandemic, having to stretch themselves even further in order to get those students back on track. We have some very dedicated teachers in this district and throughout this county, and they work tirelessly to assure that these kids succeed in school and graduate.” 

Schools are also seeing students return to face-to-face learning. Tuka said MCC High School initially had 101 of its 357 students chose remote learning during the first trimester of school. Thirty students returned for the second trimester, while five others chose to switch to remote learning, a net of 25 students. 

Forner said MCE is on semesters and has seen a similar pattern with the new semester. 

“On the average, throughout the county, it was about 38% of kids choosing remote learning in the districts and now it’s about 22%,” Forner said. 

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