chronic absenteeism
Montclair will have to come up with a plan to address its absenteeism rate of over 10 percent. COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair is getting stricter with student absenteeism.

In a letter to parents, the district announced that Montclair was going to be adhering to attendance policies prescribed by the state of New Jersey.

The district was found to have a problem with “chronic absenteeism.” The state Department of Education placed Montclair under a corrective action plan as a result.

A school or a district is deemed to have a problem with absenteeism if 10 percent or more of its students are considered chronically absent. A student is considered chronically absent if they are absent for 10 percent of school days, or 18 days out of the school calendar.

Of Montclair’s 11 schools, Montclair High School, Glenfield Middle School and Charles H. Bullock School were found to have the highest rates of chronic absenteeism.

At Montclair High School, 14 percent of students were chronically absent during the 2016-2017 school year, according to the school’s annual performance report. At Glenfield, the rate was 13.2 percent, and at Bullock, the rate was 10.2 percent.

School officials announced in an email what constituted an excused absence and what did not.

A student must be present at school for at least four hours during the day in order to have a full day’s attendance recorded. Under New Jersey state law, school must be in session for students for a minimum of 180 days. Montclair has 183 days.

Being regulated by the state, student attendance will be recorded as one of the following: present, absent, excused for religious observance, or take your child to work day.

“As you see, a student’s illness or a student’s appointment with a doctor is an absence, and it is unexcused,” said Superintendent Kendra Johnson.

College visits are also considered excused absences.

“Please understand that our change in practice is not due to anything within our control or because we wish to make new rules. Our new practice is simply to ensure we are following the state regulations regarding student attendance,” Johnson said.

One issue attributed to absenteeism is transportation, which is often an issue for students traveling from the south end to the high school. Last year, NJ Transit added an additional stop on the 34 bus near the high school in order for students to take public transportation to the school.

In June, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law requiring schools to develop a corrective action plan if they met the standards for chronic absenteeism. The corrective action plan requires schools to address the root causes of absenteeism, including external factors such as a student’s family life and finances. As part of the plan, schools must identify students who are in danger of being chronically absent, and engage in outreach with the families of those students.

Beyond those parameters, a school district may take whatever steps it deems fit to fulfill the terms of the correction plan. Montclair will have to file a corrective action plan with the state, said Department of Education spokesperson Mike Yaple.

In Montclair, chronic absenteeism was especially high among African-American students, economically-disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

During an Oct. 3 BOE meeting, Johnson hinted at “liberal attendance practices” as being a contributing factor to absenteeism in the district.

“We will do all we can to support our young people, but we have to have that delicate balance between making sure they are in school, and making sure we are in compliance with New Jersey attendance regulations,” Johnson said.