About 20 percent of Moffat County High School students have missed a tenth or more of the total number of school days so far this year. Truancies have accounted for 635 absences at the high school this year.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

About 20 percent of Moffat County High School students have missed a tenth or more of the total number of school days so far this year. Truancies have accounted for 635 absences at the high school this year.

Weight of absences heavy

High school official thinking 'a little differently' about student absences, truancy


By the numbers

635: The number of truancies recorded at Moffat County High School so far this year

20 percent: The approximate portion of the high school's enrollment that has missed a tenth of the total school days this year, either for excused or unexcused absences

65: The number of days at which a student must take online high school courses and complete community service to make up for lost class time

— About three to five times a week, Mary Quinn, Moffat County High School Language Arts teacher, notices a student's desk is empty for reasons unknown.

She doesn't know where the student is, she said, adding that, sometimes, the student's parents don't know, either.

The situation creates problems for students and doesn't sit well with Quinn, a sixth-year Moffat County High School teacher.

"It's scary not knowing where these kids are," she said.

Although the Colorado Department of Education's Web site reported that the high school's average daily attendance rate has ranged in the 90th percentile last year, recent numbers tell a different story.

About 20 percent of the school's population missed at least 65 hours of school - a tenth or more of the required number of school days this semester, assistant principal Thom Schnellinger said.

That percentage, which includes excused and unexcused absences, means those students will have to make up the hours they missed by taking high school courses online and performing community service.

Truancies, which refer to student absences that aren't excused by a written note or phone call from a parent or a doctor's note, have accounted for 635 student absences at the high school so far this year.

These figures recently have given Schnellinger pause.

"It does give rise to thinking about (truancy) a little differently," he said.

The National Center for School Engagement reported that several factors, including unsafe school environment and poor records of student attendance, attribute to truancy.

Schnellinger said students' lack of interest in school also contributes to truancy.

Regardless of the cause, any unexcused absence is considered an act of truancy, the center reported, and a student who is habitually truant faces a status offense, or an act that is illegal solely for people of a certain age.

Truancy ranks among other status offences, including alcohol use and curfew violations, the center reported.

Definitions and causes aside, Schnellinger said he believes truancy is a "red flag," both at the high school and the state level, for other deviant behaviors.

The center's studies reveal similar results.

"Truancy has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs of students headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation or educational failure via suspension, expulsion or dropping out," according to the center.

Quinn sees other consequences of truancy -immediate, academic consequences.

Missing 10 days or more in a quarter is "almost killer," Quinn said.

When these assignments pile up, a vicious cycle begins that Quinn said is painful to watch.

"The more they miss, the more they get behind," Quinn said. "It's like they're choosing to fail."

And it's not just essays or tests that students miss when they are absent. They also miss class discussions, she said.

"You can't make that up," she said. "Kids learn more from each other than from a teacher sometimes.

"There's more to school than just books."

The solution?

"There is no silver bullet," Schnellinger said.

Still, he said developing community and family connections, along with making sure students are engaged in school, may reduce truancy rates.

Parent and family involvement headed the Center for School Engagement's list of truancy preventions, followed by schools' collaboration with law enforcement and social service workers.

Although Schnellinger believes schools with open campus lunches - including Moffat County High School - are at higher risk for student truancy, "We are not considering closing campus in the near future," he said.

Multiple factors, including the high school's lunchroom capacity, would affect the decision to keep students on campus during lunch hours, Schnellinger said, and the school's officials alone couldn't authorize the change.

Still, "We're not going to take that (option) off the table" if student absence rates don't decrease, he said.

Juniors Christen Scheele and Corey Bruce said they wouldn't appreciate such a plan.

"I'd be rather irritated" if the school adopted a closed-campus lunch, Bruce said. "I kind of enjoy going out to eat and not (eating) what the school has."

Scheele agreed.

"No, no, no," she said, adding that she wasn't in favor of the idea.

An open campus lunch "gives a break from school," she said.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com


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