RVA’ s Chronic Absenteeism (Formerly Known As Truancy)

by Jon Baliles 

It’s hard for young students to learn if they are not in class, and Richmond Public Schools revealed some “unacceptably high” numbers regarding “chronic absenteeism” (aka truancy) at their meeting this week. Tannock Blair and Rolynn Wilson at WRIC filed a report in which Shadae Harris, RPS’ Chief Engagement Officer, presented the latest data showing truancy dropped from 27.7% in 2021 to 25.9% in 2022.

Harris explained to board members that certain steps could be taken in the first 15 days of the school year to increase the likelihood of student attendance. These suggestions include engagement offices, social workers and family liaisons.

Holly Rodriguez at the Richmond Free Press also filed a report on this in which Harris said the pandemic and online learning had increased truancy to 37% but the numbers had trended back down since then.

But Rodriguez notes, “In December of 2021, 27.7 percent of RPS students were chronically absent, the highest number during Superintendent Jason Kamras’s administration. The number barely budged a year later, dropping only 1.8 percentage points to 25.9 percent in December of 2022.”

When the superintendent put forth his strategic plan in 2018, the pandemic was unanticipated. But, the goal was to bring chronic absenteeism down from 19 percent to 9 percent by the end of the 2022-2023 school year. However, during Mr. Kamras’s tenure, chronic absenteeism was increasing before the pandemic. In the 2018-2019 school year, his first year, the division was at 15.7 percent; in 2019-2020, the number jumped to 19 percent and in 2020-2021, to 19.5 percent.

3rd District Board Member Kenya Gibson addressed these numbers straight up: “We do ourselves a disservice to blame the pandemic for this — these issues go back for some time. In 2019, the district eliminated 17 attendance officers from the budget to save money . . . when attendance dropped, the administration requested funding to add the positions back, but it came at a cost.”

Harris said RPS is using data to document and track an engagement strategy for truant students, including “phone calls, home visits with students and their families and community events.” She said it has helped lower truancy by 10% at Fairfield Court Elementary, Albert Hill Middle and Lucille Brown Middle school, and by 19% at John Marshall High School over the last year. They are working on implementing that strategy in every school, she said.

4th District Board Member Jonathan Young said while the latest data show “a colossal failure,” he also said the original 9% goal is still achievable. “The goals are achievable, but the strategy, the approach is too central-office-focused and involves more relationship development with the students by the teachers and staff the students see (or are supposed to see) every day.”

This isn’t an issue that gets fixed overnight, but the numbers tell the story pretty clearly and should be watched closely to see what is working and what needs more emphasis in order to meet the goal.

This column originally appeared in RVA 5×5 and is republished here with permission. 


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


9 responses to “RVA’ s Chronic Absenteeism (Formerly Known As Truancy)”

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    The RPS plan is not robust enough. Better plan. Do what the Warren County High School principal did a few years back. 2 consecutive absences resulted in the principal knocking on your door to find out what is going on. Worked like a charm.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Kathleen is correct. Sometimes there are reasons for chronic truancy other than just not wanting to go to school. As has been pointed out before on this blog, Kamras made a big mistake several years ago when he eliminated the positions of experienced attendance officers and replaced them with fewer “liaison” officers. Folks in those new positions may have had college degrees, but they did not have the on-the-ground experience with the students that the attendance officers had. The consequences of that action are not evident. By the way, Kamras is not the only one to blame–the school board approved that budget proposal. https://richmond.com/news/plus/williams-richmonds-attendance-officers-are-at-the-frontline-of-student-trauma-the-school-district-cannot/article_b8768310-16fb-539f-b815-8fda749e8bb8.html

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Mr. Dick I will concede that there are factors that contribute to some chronic truancy beyond just plain old skipping. But Richmond has way too many schools where absenteeism is off the charts because nobody is really doing anything meaningful to stop it. Armstrong High School needs an army of truant of officers to correct the disaster. Already a struggling school. Now students have figured out that nothing is going to happen to them until you reach a court date many months down the road.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I agree that probably most of the chronic truants are just skipping school. My main point was that good attendance officers, in addition to rounding up the true truants, can help address family problems that result in the absenteeism of some (many?) students. Kamras squandered this resource when he eliminated the positions.

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          Indeed. We are in agreement. I cannot understand the diversion of resources from securing attendance. Getting everybody there on time is the first step to a good day at school.

  3. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Truancy is different from chronic absenteeism. Not much difference. Truancy is an act that results in chronic absenteeism. Just a note. I could have asthma and it could result in chronic absenteeism. Or I might have to work a because mom and dad were laid off work. Chronic absenteeism requires a principal to find out why and force improvement, perhaps a 504 plan in the case of chronic asthma, court referral for just playing hooky, and virtual school for the kid who has to work to put food on the table.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    The alternative to Richmond Alternative School is just do not come. Nobody is going to make you. 91% chronic absenteesim rate. Over 3,000 students are enrolled. 50 percent drop out rate. Board this place up. Waste of time and money.

  5. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    A good start would be to make the schools safe, the classroom environments hospitable to learning and the classes interesting enough for students to want to be there.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Kids that get to the 6th grade and still cannot read/write/math are no longer interested in school.

Leave a Reply