MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Thousands of children are missing school in Shelby County, and many don’t have a valid excuse.
On Sept. 29, in an open records request, WREG asked how many students missed class. On Monday, Shelby County Schools responded.
From the start of the school year through Nov. 19, 23,567 students missed five or more days of school, and another 3,500 students had five absences.
Shelby County Schools chose a virtual learning model this year to stem the spread of COVID-19. That led district officials to tweak the attendance policy this year, accepting excuses like power outages and internet problems.
But the days remain the same. If there are five or more unexcused absences, a student is considered truant.
Most of those students who were missing class were in kindergarten, first and second grades.
Angela Hargrave, the executive director of the district’s student equity enrollment and discipline team, said one reason for that is that thevirtual environment for younger students requires someone to be there with them, and a parent or supervisor may not always be available to sit with them.
WREG also found out that nearly 200 students have missed 41 or more days of school. A majority of those are eighth, ninth and 10-graders.
The school district didn’t break down what absences were unexcused, so we could not find out how many are considered truant. We’ve requested that, as well as data from past years to compare.
District officials said when students have multiple absences, they call the parent or go to their home, set meetings and try to find out the reason and offer resources. They say more support is needed this year.
“What we are finding is there is more families that are in need,” Hargrave said. “Domestic violence situations. Homelessness. Many parents who have lost their jobs. They are sick.”
She said it’s important for parents to remember there are many supports and resources available.
Shelby County Schools can get authorities involved when a child is truant. Juvenile Court said they haven’t heard from the district this year, nor has the District Attorney’s office. The DA’s office used to help with the district’s truancy reduction efforts, but last year the board suddenly cut ties, keeping all efforts in-house.