PINE BELT (WDAM) - Absences are adding up for Mississippi students, and if they are not in class, they are not learning.
"It's important because it's basically a life skill," said Jones County Superintendent Tommy Parker. "If they are not in school, we don't have the opportunity to provide instruction to them and help them advance themselves, educationally."
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the time enrolled for any reason, which includes excused and unexcused absences and suspensions. On average, that would be 18 days or more for a 180-day school year.
In the Mississippi Department of Education's most recent school-and-district-level chronic absence data, 14.2 percent of Mississippi students were absent 10 percent or more of the time during the 2016-17 school year.
In Jones County, that number was just above the state average at 14.80 percent, with 1,347 of the 9,099 enrolled last year missing ten or more days of school.
"Students who tend not to attend school are going to be at a greater risk at not getting what they need to graduate," said Parker.
Similar to national trends, Mississippi's chronic absenteeism rate is high in kindergarten, tapers off in early elementary years, and then increases steadily. According to MDE, the rate peaked in 12th grade at 30.1 percent. Parker said that has a lot to do with responsibility when it comes to parents, in the lower grades, and students in middle and high schools.
"A lot of our students, our older students especially, are left," said Parker. "Their parents leave to go to work and they are left to, maybe not necessarily get themselves up, but get themselves ready to go to school everyday. Parents don't know if they go to school or not, especially if they have their own transportation."
Parker said the district offers an "incentives" program for students, that could be a novelty item in elementary schools or being put into a raffle for an electronic item in high schools.
The three districts with the highest chronic absenteeism rates are Forrest County Agricultural High School (26.4 percent), Natchez-Adams (25.6 percent) and Lumberton (24.8 percent).
Chronic absence is recorded separately from average daily attendance, which is the average number of enrolled students who attend school each day. Parker said they may be different, but the success for a child's education and finances for the district go hand-in-hand.
"Part of our funding is contingent on the number of students we have attending on a daily basis. It's important for us, even from a financial standpoint, that students are in school when they are able to attend school," Parker said.
Pine Belt School District Chronic Absentee Rates, '16-'17 (Students with chronic absenteeism/students enrolled):
- Forrest County Agricultural High School - 26.43% (166/628)
- Lumberton School District - 24.80% (159/641)
- Richton School District - 18.65% (141/756)
- Hattiesburg Public School District - 17.79% (841/4728)
- Laurel School District - 15.7% (535/3389)
- Covington County School District - 15.63% (484/3097)
- Jones County School District - 14.80% (1,347/9,099)
- Forrest County School District - 14.31% (364/2,543)
- Jefferson Davis County School District - 12.62% (191/1,514)
- Perry County School District - 11.70% (140/1,197)
- Wayne County School District - 11.63% (402/3,458)
- Petal School District - 10.60% (463/4,368)
- Lamar County School District - 9.25% (965/10,431)