Charlottesville, Its Public Schools and UVa – Part Four – Chronic Absenteeism, Social Promotion, VTSS and UVa’s Ed School

by James C. Sherlock

There is a rule: nothing else schools do will matter much for kids who are chronically absent.

In Charlottesville, it is the Black children who dominate the chronic absenteeism statistics.

Their SOL performance validates the rule.

The process for preventing and dealing with chronic absenteeism within the school system is so lengthy, bureaucratic and “progressive” (literally and figuratively) that it has failed Black children starting in kindergarten.

Absenteeism and social promotion are recipes for educational failure.

They also contribute directly to the breakdown of order and discipline in schools, as kids who are frustrated and lost in class act out first in disruptive, and then destructive ways.

Yet CCS schools allow runaway Black chronic absenteeism without truancy charges and engage in wholesale social promotion of Black students who do not have the academic skills to learn in the next grade.

Lest they be labeled racist.

What they get are racist outcomes.

Promotion and retention. CCS policies on promotion and retention notably, and predictably, lack objective standards.

“A set of multiple criteria will be used for determining the promotion or retention of students.

The decision to retain a student in a grade shall rest with the principal and teacher(s), in consultation with the parent or guardian.

Parental consent is not required for a student to be retained in a grade.

Through grade eight, promotion and retention shall be based on an evaluation of the student’s acquisition of skills and knowledge as well as other evidence of growth as determined by the student’s teacher(s) and principal.

Promotion or retention shall not be determined solely by achievement on Standards of Learning (SOL) testing.”

“Student’s acquisition of skills and knowledge as well as other evidence of growth.” Anybody know what that means?

“Shall not be determined solely by achievement on Standards of Learning (SOL) testing.” Everyone, by contrast, knows what that means.

Look at Black student SOL results above. Those kids are being socially promoted rather than taught.

VTSS and PBIS. CCS implements Virginia Tiered Systems and Supports (VTSS). Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is a component of VTSS.

For students in need, we offer supports in five main areas:

  • Attendance
  • Behavior
  • Mathematics
  • Literacy
  • Mental Wellness” [Bold added.]

If “supports” means “effective supports,” they don’t.

… The Virginia Tiered Systems of Supports (VTSS) in Charlottesville City Schools is a framework and philosophy that helps every student be successful in academics and behavior.” [Bold added.]

No, it doesn’t. Not in Charlottesville. Not even close.

Continuing to pretend otherwise is ruining young Black lives.

Attendance. CCS student absences policy refers to VTSS in setting attendance compliance and intervention guidelines.

After seven unexcused absences, and the student has a history of chronic absenteeism, the student and family/guardian will be referred to the Charlottesville Tiered Systems of Supports (CTSS).

CTSS shall work with the family/guardian and student to resolve attendance and address barriers to attendance, including possible referrals for service. Possible school based interventions could be Check in-Check out, support from a student support liaison, or a small group focused on attendance.

Good to know. But that is where the process breaks down. The next step almost literally never happens.

If the student continues to accumulate unexcused absences, school staff may contact the Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) District Court to file a complaint alleging the student is a Child in Need of Supervision (CHINN Sup) or to institute proceedings against the family/guardian.

Failure to make sure a child attends school regularly is not in Virginia classified as child neglect.

Those complaints thus show up as truancy cases in the case load of Charlottesville JDR court filings. From January through October of this year, the total is three. Three hundred fifty-one Black students were chronically absent last school year.

Because of administrative delays in VTSS, truancy filings would have shown up in JDR in CY 2023.

The total is three.

Multiple Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS) nationally. Education Week reported a month ago that only 16% of teachers think MTSS helps close the achievement gap. Half reported that it was difficult to implement.

You will notice that no information is offered on MTSS benefits relative to attendance.

It may indicate that the surveyors did not think it had any effect.

But then we note that proponents of MTSS do not consider truancy charges to be mentionable among interventions and strategies that can be used to promote attendance.

So surveyors stayed clear of that minefield.

VTSS in Charlottesville. A fair assessment from the Charlottesville data would say that in that division, the challenges of VTSS far outweigh the benefits.

Among the Black students in CCS, 58% failed reading and 66% failed math SOLs in 2022-2023.

In the 2018-19 school year,

  • 352 CCS students (8.2%) were chronically absent;
  • Black student chronic absenteeism was 12.4%;
  • CCS filed 218 truancy complaints;
  • Truancy filings were made in 62% of chronic absenteeism cases.

In the 2022-23 school year, the school board regulation on absenteeism had not changed from 2018, yet

  • 895 CCS students (21.3%) were chronically absent;
  • Black student chronic absenteeism was 30.9%;
  • Charlottesville JDR reports only three truancy complaints this calendar year through October.

UVa School of Education and Human Development. Senior Associate Dean for Research, Professor Catherine P. Bradshaw of the UVa School of Education and Human Development is one of the nation’s leading experts in MTSS/PBIS. She has been so for a very long time.

Her writings indicate that she is a dedicated progressive, viewing nearly everything through the lens of race. Her study at the link “was informed in part by critical race theory.”

Applied to education, a CRT perspective posits that schools are racialized institutions that enact and reproduce White privilege and power, often through race-neutral policies and practices that ignore racial disparities and realities and do not address systemic issues (Anyon et al., 2018).

If she thinks that is where her research has led her, and she clearly does, she should certainly say it. It is perhaps the near-universal view on her faculty. The ed school has a DEI program, but that crew brings coals to Newcastle.

Her school is where perhaps most CCS teachers, some of whom got undergraduate education degrees at UVa and student-taught at CCS, go to get their advanced degrees in education. They can do it online. They are guaranteed admission and get a discount. The on-campus part is only blocks away. That is why 65% of them have advanced degrees.

Among Dr. Bradshaw’s categorizations, VDOE data show that CCS is primarily heterogenous in racial makeup.

Attendance at a racially heterogenous school has been associated with greater social competence and academic performance for students (Williams & Hamm, 2018). Furthermore, racially heterogeneous school settings have been associated with prejudice reduction and better learning outcomes among other positive benefits for students (Orfield et al., 2012). [Bold added]

Except in the school division down the street from her office.

CCS is, by her definition, racist. With aggressive anti-racism policies since 2019.

The assessment of systemic racism in schools and MTSS/PBIS as steps in the cure have reached the status of dogma in elite schools of education.  Read Dr. Bradshaw’s June 2023 article linked above.

Anyone questioning MTSS/PBIS and promoting truancy charges for chronic absenteeism in today’s educational environment will be labeled racist. The term risks being so widely and often used as to lose its meaning.

But I don’t think I am going out on a limb in observing that VTSS/PBIS in Charlottesville and the lack of truancy charges there that would give parents skin in the game have failed Black kids.

The gaps with White students in the same classrooms are oceans.  Because, without professional interventions and, as necessary, truancy charges, the Black kids miss too much school.

That is the real racism here.


 First, I recommend that Charlottesville schools de-couple as much as practicable from the UVa School of Education and Human Development.

It will be difficult because of the domination of the school board by members elected by the University community.

But that relationship has left them with profoundly racist outcomes.

  Second, I recommend that the University’s ed school cease its obsessive-compulsive interventions in CCS.  That was illustrated in Part 1 of this series on CCS by the sudden appearance of UVa ed school personnel at a discussion by CCS leadership of the riots at Charlottesville High School.

Be “great and good”.  Do CCS a favor.

Leave them alone.