The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Tara D. Wallace is a Clinician and Licensed Trauma Therapist at Topeka.
Truancy rates in Shawnee County more than doubled in the 2020-2021 school year.
For minority families, distance learning has proven difficult for a multitude of reasons: poor connectivity, inadequate equipment, and bandwidth issues, to name a few. Truancy court notices began arriving in the spring of 2021, as schools reopened and students adjusted to a new standard that did not include a state assessment requirement.
Establishing as one of its priorities “educational inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic,” the office of elementary and secondary education of the US Department of Education has authorized schools to lower their annual state assessment rates. below 95% participation. Clearly, families could refuse their children to submit to state assessments. Why would they do it? Students spent much of fall 2020 struggling to connect to virtual classrooms and learn new concepts in environments not conducive to academics, while trying to remember concepts learned in spring 2020.
In addition, schools were given the opportunity to administer assessments to students who chose to take them. A reasonable consideration given the COVID-19 outbreaks expected in the spring of 2021, right?
The Ministry of Education has asked schools to provide disaggregated data related to “chronic absenteeism” and access to “technological devices such as laptops or tablets and high-speed internet at home” . This is where the catch lies. Nationally, minority populations have experienced higher cases of “chronic absenteeism” based on pre-COVID attendance guidelines.
Remember, the struggle of minority students with basic Internet service? Unless the pandemic somehow improved the quality of the internet, significant adjustments were needed to compensate for the massive overhead experienced by outdated systems.
This does not happen.
In the rush to get students to “school,” no consideration has been given to attendance policies for distance learning. If for some reason a student did not wait to be admitted to their virtual classroom, they risked being counted absent or late. If a student was admitted and then disconnected, if their system froze, or if they lost access to sound or did not appear or stay in front of the camera, they risked being counted absent.
Minority families with multiple students attempting to access distance learning simultaneously might expect at least one student to be counted as absent or late during the school day due to the previously mentioned issues. While useful in informing decisions about resources for student learning in the future, the effect of these inequalities on minority families was immediately felt.
Truancy policies require notification to families before involving the district attorney. In at least one case, the hearing letter from the child in need of care was the only notice a family received while maintaining regular contact with the school, including the student being physically at school. during distance learning. Although the family provided documents contradicting CINC’s request, a court worker was assigned to monitor their case.
It should be noted that when asked to justify a truancy report based on these facts, the school indicated that truancy is a district matter. This is not true. Absenteeism is managed by individual schools. The district was extremely helpful in resolving the truancy issues experienced by many other minority students during the spring term of 2021.
Court workers insist that their presence in absenteeism cases is not punitive but serves to support families. Historically, the presence of a judicial officer adds undue stress to minority families as they are forced to conform to standards deemed “acceptable” by the court that are incompatible with their own culture and value systems.
Families are designed to fail based on standards that many people involved in the truancy process do not have to meet in their own lives. The “support” provided has nothing to do with the underlying cause of absenteeism, namely poor internet service. Yet workers feel justified in maintaining a presence in family life rather than recommending dismissal, and report progress according to the goals they have identified for restoring “stability.” If a good Internet is a requirement for stability, we have serious problems.
These goals blatantly ignore the fact that the presence of the forensic worker is a source of dysfunction and generally leads to the need for more serious and long-term intervention in a self-sustaining cycle.
Many of us expected a minimum of grace to do our jobs because of COVID-19. Yet we forgot to extend this same thanks to our children who deserve it even more, because our job is to protect them. They deserve forgiveness from all school absenteeism costs resulting from virtual schooling for the 2020-2021 school year and our commitment to do better as adults.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.