Pearl River County School District ranks high in chronic absenteeism
Published 7:00 am Thursday, October 3, 2019
The Pearl River County School District ranked as the fifth highest in the state for chronic absenteeism among students in the 2018-2019 school year, according to a report from the Mississippi Department of Education.
The report defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent of the school year, or 18 days, for any excused or unexcused absence. Students who miss 50 percent or more of a school day are considered absent, the report states.
In the Pearl River County School District, 23.9 percent of students were absent for 10 percent or more of the 2018-2019 school year. Of the 3,461 students enrolled in the school district, 829 were chronically absent.
For three consecutive years, the school district has been one of the top ten districts in the state for high chronic absenteeism rates. In the 2017-2018 school year, the Pearl River County School district had a chronic absenteeism rate of 26 percent and in the 2016-2017 school year the district had a rate of 24 percent.
“Attendance is an issue that we work on every year at the school level and at the district level,” said Pearl River County School District Superintendent Alan Lumpkin.
The District offers an attendance incentive that rewards students with a day at the local movie theater who are present 95 percent of the time in October and November, Lumpkin said. The individual schools also have multiple short term attendance incentives to encourage students to be present each day during the school week, Lumpkin said.
Long term, the District administrators plan to reduce chronic absenteeism by educating parents and students about the importance of being in school, Lumpkin said.
Statewide, the average chronic absenteeism rate is 13 percent, which is the lowest rate since the Mississippi Department of Education began reporting chronic absenteeism rates, according to the report. This means 63,226 students were chronically absent across the state, which is 19,746 fewer than in the 2017-20018 school year. The statewide rate is high in kindergarten at 13 percent and peaks in grade 12 at 26 percent, the report states.
Chronic absence can cause students to struggle with coursework and put high school students off track for graduation, according to a Mississippi Department of Education press release. Chronic absence in kindergarten is often caused by health problems and transportation challenges, while chronic absence in middle and high school is often caused by factors like bullying, students needing to care for younger siblings or strict discipline policies that push students out of schools, according to the report.
Lumpkin said transportation is not an issue in the Pearl River County School District because buses are available to pick up students at every house. Lumpkin said he does not see discipline actions contributing to absences, because out of school suspensions are only used for major rule infractions and compose a small percentage of the absences in the District.
Lumpkin said the majority of excused absences in the Pearl River County School District were for doctor appointments.
“We’re going to be looking into that and how can we partner with our parents and our community to reduce those absences for doctor’s excuses,” Lumpkin said.
District administrators will see if they can work with parents to encourage the scheduling of doctors appointments at different times, Lumpkin said.
According to the report, Pearl River Central Elementary had a chronic absenteeism rate of 22 percent, with 357 chronically absent students out of 1,561. Pearl River Central Junior High had a chronic absenteeism rate of 22 percent, with 192 chronically absent students out of 867. Pearl River Central High School had a chronic absenteeism rate of 27 percent, with 280 chronically absent students out of 1,033.
The Picayune School District had a chronic absenteeism rate of 18 percent, with 698 chronically absent students out of 3,761 enrolled students in the 2018-2019 school year.
The Early Head Start Nicholson campus and the Early Head Start campus on Rosa Street both had chronic absenteeism rates under five percent, which are the lowest rates in the county. Picayune Memorial High School had the highest rate in the District at 24 percent. Nicholson Elementary School had a rate of 22 percent. The other elementary schools in the District had rates that ranged between 15 and 19 percent.
The Poplarville Separate School District had a chronic absenteeism rate of 12 percent, with 241 chronically absent students out of 1,926 enrolled students in the 2018-2019 school year. Poplarville Lower Elementary School had the highest rate in the district at 14 percent. At 10 percent, the Middle School of Poplarville had the lowest chronic absenteeism rate in the District.