Richmond school leaders struggle with absenteeism rate; parent suggests policy changes

Attending school board meetings, Becca DuVal became increasingly concerned about the division’s chronic absenteeism rate.
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 12:45 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond Public Schools parent Becca DuVal has two children in the school system with a third heading there soon.

Attending school board meetings, DuVal became increasingly concerned about the division’s chronic absenteeism rate. That’s when students miss 10% or more of class.

“There is a trend of school districts that opened their schools sooner, that are performing a lot better with chronic absenteeism,” said DuVal.

The state-wide average post-pandemic chronic absenteeism rate is 20%. Richmond’s is 25.9%. You can find more information about individual schools here.

“We’re not going to solve chronic absenteeism until we solve the mental health crisis that COVID lockdown created,” said DuVal.

DuVal believes addressing student mental health will help turn the numbers around, so she hopes school leaders will consider adding more counselors and support staff.

Over the last four years, RPS has cut 119 central office positions. The division is currently working on the upcoming budget, and DuVal says only $1.9 million is proposed for student wellness.

“Too many of our students, we are just warehousing them, and I know that that is a really ugly way to say it, but if instead, we would get the heck out of the way of our teachers and allow them to meet our students where they’re at,” said Jonathan Young, Richmond School Board Member.

RPS has implemented a clear process for addressing attendance concerns. The division now has an engagement plan to work with families and correct attendance issues before they snowball into other issues. But even then, the numbers aren’t coming down as rapidly as parents want.

“It’s sad that our kids are sort of lab rats for these decisions and we have to see if they fail or succeed before we know if we failed or succeeded,” said DuVal.

The division recently made changes switching start times for elementary and high schools. DuVal says an alternative is to start all schools after 8 a.m, but that also takes more buses and drivers to run shorter routes.

You can review DuVal’s blog posts here and here about the issue.