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  • Roger Sims, Journal Staff

Prairie View district campaign to address student absenteeism

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

LA CYGNE – "If you had a kid who misses one day (of school) every two weeks, in the course of a year they've missed a month. And over their education they've missed one and a half years of learning. In a kid who misses two days a week – and we have some – over the course of 13 years, it's like finishing up in year seven.

That's how much school they have missed, and that's over five years of education."

That was the message that Beth Sandness delivered to the Prairie View USD 362 Board of Education on Monday, Aug. 8. Sandness, who is director of student services for the district, said that the state shows that the Prairie View district had a 18.7 percent rate of chronic absenteeism in 2022, and her goal this year is to fix that problem.

"That means that those kids missed more than 10 percent of the school days," she said. "If that's a kid that enrolled in August and stayed through May, that means they missed more than 17 school days. That's a pretty big number, and that's the number the state is looking at."

In her written report to the board, Sandness indicated that in 2022, La Cygne Elementary had an absenteeism rate of 16.3 percent, Parker Elementary had 17.5 percent, the middle school had 23 percent and the high school's rate was about 17.6 percent.

She said that the Kansas State Department of Education is taking a serious look at attendance as an issue for schools. And while Sandness focused on what the district’s effort would be to overcome the problem, board members asked pointed questions about how truancy was handled in Linn County.

Sandness said that she will be reaching out to members of the La Cygne Chamber of Commerce to partner with the district in her “BAM” campaign – Buffalo Attendance Matters, Every Day, Every Hour. If students get in the habit of not attending school, that habit will extend to the workplace after graduation, she added.

The push to improve the attendance rate will come with some incentives, she said. Students in each school with an attendance rate of 95 percent or better will be eligible for twice a month drawings for rewards like gift cards or a lunch. More than 370 students across the district had attendance rates of 95 percent or better in 2022.

She also plans to print posters with the photos of the winning students for each of the four attendance centers – both elementary schools, the middle school and the high school – to further create some excitement for the program.

Students can be eligible for even more rewards at the end of each semester. And Sandness envisions a reward system for families that have students who attend regularly.

And while a program with incentives can help push attendance up, Sandness also said that other measures that include a court appearance can help address the problem. She said that towns or counties that have active truancy courts are successful in cutting the rate of chronic absenteeism.

However, she noted there is not that kind of assistance from the legal system in the area.

Superintendent Rex Bollinger noted that the district reported cases of truancy. “We will report truancy because we’re required to,” he said.

However, Bollinger said that cases reported to the county attorney don’t seem to have much result.

Sandness said that truancy cases for children 11 years old and younger are required to be reported to the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF).

La Cygne Elementary School Principal Tiffany Ellertt said she regularly sends notification to both the Linn County Attorney and DCF.

Again, Sandness reported frustration concerning inaction by the county attorney’s office, and Board Member Rita Boydston said she planned to contact County Attorney Burton Harding about the problem.

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