Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 7:57 pm | Fair 69º


Chronic Absenteeism Up in Santa Barbara School District; Board Reviewing Dress-Code Policy

An attendance report and possible changes to dress code policy were topics discussed Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of trustees regular meeting. 

The distric's schools saw an uptick in chronic absenteeism for the first semester of the 2017-18 school year.

Chronic absenteeism rose to 16.5 percent, compared to 13.6 percent among its nearly 15,200 students for the first semester of the 2016-2017 academic year.

Missing 18 or more days of school qualifies as chronic absenteeism.

Absenteeism increased in elementary, middle and high schools across the district.

According to Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of student services, students likely missed school because of influenza-related illness and Santa Barbara County's twin disasters — the Thomas Fire in December and Montecito’s debris flows in January.

“Natural disasters impacted our attendance,” said Wageneck, noting the decision to temporarily close schools due to the fire and the Highway 101 closure after the debris flows.

District officials have set a goal of a 1 percent decline annually — about 135 students — in chronic absenteeism through 2020-21.

Officials reported their first-semester attendance data for the 2017-18 academic year at Tuesday’s meeting.

Reports for the first semester show five schools saw a decrease in chronic absenteeism rates, and 13 schools experienced an increase.

Frequent absences shape adult habits, Wageneck said, and may prevent children from reaching early learning milestones.

Chronic absenteeism at San Marcos High School reported the most growth at 35.1 percent through mid-January, an increase compared to last year’s first semester at 28.5 percent.

Santa Barbara Community Academy, La Colina Junior High School, and Adams, McKinley and Roosevelt elementary schools showed decreases in chronic absenteeism.

The district released chronic absenteeism data that includes results for nine demographic subgroups.

At 27.9 percent, special education students have the highest rates of chronic absenteeism for the first semester, followed by 19.1 percent for both English Learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Homeless and foster youth chronic absenteeism was at 18.7 percent, followed by Hispanic/Latino at 17.6 percent, and white at 15.5 percent.

In the first semester, 11.4 percent of African American students were chronically absent.

Asian students saw the lowest rate at 8.12 percent for the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year. 

The district is working to identify areas of focus so they can take preventative measures.

“I hope we see better numbers in the second semester,” trustee Kate Parker said of chronic absenteeism.

Truancy also was discussed. Three or more uncleared absences in a school year qualifies as truant, according to district policy.

Truancy across the district for the first semester of the 2017-18 school year showed a rate of 9.4 percent.

That number is down 0.6 percent from the same time last year, and a 4.2 percent decrease over the past two years. 

Students with disabilities have the highest truancy rate, Wageneck said.

Nine schools saw their truancy rate remain the same or decrease, compared to previous years. Nine other schools saw their truancy rate rise. 

Junior high school assistant principals, who oversee attendance, are forming relationships with the county District Attorney’s CLASS (Community Leadership in Achieving Student Success) program, where parents receive a letter documenting absences, followed by group and one-on-one meetings with school staff, and if necessary a referral to the Probation Department or District Attorney.

The district is showing its potential to revising its dress code policy, addressing language that reinforced racial profiling and gender binary.

No decisions were made Tuesday evening, and the item will return on the board's consent agenda at a future date.

District officials are considering removing the policy section of clothing resembling “gang attire” due to restrictions likely targeting students of color and allowing school staff to address clothing with symbols or images that disrupt the learning process.

During deliberation, trustee Ismael Paredes Ulloa commended striking the “gang attire” section.

“Growing up, I saw some students undeservingly get picked on for that, ”the Santa Barbara local said. “It was an excuse for picking on students.”

District assistant principals and deans gathered in January to review the dress code and provide input.

The takeaway was the need for the policy’s language to be broad enough to survive clothing style changes while enforcing student safety and ensuring a learning environment free of distraction. 

Administrators communicated the need to be free of bias language, Wageneck said.

Potential changes include language that targeted female students like “midriff” would be changed to “torso.”

Consequences and disciplinary actions were also updated, Wageneck said.

The dress code policy was last reviewed in 2009.

“We had to bring it up to speed,” Wageneck said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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