Within each and every school in Newfoundland & Labrador lurks an increasingly larger and more vulnerable demographic of our student population: the absentee student.
I am not referring to the child or adolescent that is absent occasionally for valid reasons but the student and family that becomes entangled within in a web of school refusal, family crisis, apathy, or an inability to see the value of full attendance. In certain cases, students miss entire academic years with the result being social promotion (i.e. pushing the student on to the next grade in spite of outcomes completed). Adding to this dilemma is the fact that these students have diagnosed (and undiagnosed) exceptionalities (e.g. ADHD, anxiety, low cognitive ability, etc.) further magnifying the vulnerability of these students.
These students and their families are charting a course for significant personal difficulty and struggle with no clear response plan on the part of our social service agencies.
Schools and teachers look for opportunities and take exhaustive steps to draw these students back into regular attendance through multiple meetings and communications with caregivers, alternate arrangements for evaluation, and attempts to include Child, Youth, & Family Services (CYFS) & medical personnel in developing response plans.
When response efforts are unsuccessful at the school level, the safety net unravels. CYFS personnel are limited by directives that truancy does NOT fall within their mandate.
So, the saga continues for these students whereby many skip their junior high years to enter high school with Grade 5 or 6 being the last grade successfully completed.
As an educator, I see this story repeat itself year after year. It is time that this crisis be addressed and responses be driven by all players (in addition to school-based personnel). School attendance is vital to a child's growth and development and therefore needs to be part of the CYFS mandate. There is great promise in these students and families however an empty seat brings no promise at all.