SLC School District fights chronic absenteeism

Posted at 10:01 PM, Sep 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-19 10:01:31-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Several years ago Salt Lake City School District had one of the worst rates of chronic absenteeism in the state.

Today, that number has dropped dramatically.

“For us we've reduced that over time by paying attention to it earlier so that young people know that we're not only looking for them but that we really want them there,” said McKell Withers, Superintendent of Salt Lake City School District.

But still, a new study shows 11 percent of the district’s students are routinely missing class.

“We're working to lower the number of chronically absent kids by being proactive rather than reactive, by investing in and encouraging them to be in school,” Withers said.

At a conference on Thursday, state leaders and educators tried to figure out new approaches to solving problems -- like in San Juan County where 20 percent of their students are chronically absent to Ogden which is in the 10-15 percent range.

Statewide, more than 36,000 children are considered to be chronically absent.

“This is one way to highlight it, make people aware that chronic absence does matter and that missing a few days here and there can make a difference and put children at risk for academic failure or drop out,” said Karen Crompton, President of Voices for Utah Children.

Studies show if a student misses just two days of school during the first month of school that child is five times more likely to be chronically absent the rest of the year.

“We focus on better teachers, better programs, better curriculum, better standards, all of those things -- but if kids aren't showing up to school none of that matters,” said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

Experts say parents are key players in getting more students to attend class regularly.