Rochester, N.Y. – City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas spent the morning looking for the city’s truant students – and their parents.
Vargas was joined by 60 district staff members and community volunteers. They went to 155 homes of the youngest students, children in kindergarten through third grade. The students attend four elementary schools where the attendance rate often dips below 90 percent.
“When a child is in kindergarten and the child is not going to school, we cannot say it’s the child problem,” Vargas said.
Last school year, 400 kindergartners missed 20 days of school or more. This school year, one-third of students district-wide have missed a week of school already. One out of six students has missed two weeks of school.
Kristin Pryor knocked on several doors. “There’s an absolute need to reach out to families on a one on one basis,” she said. Pryor said families were eager for help. They listed a variety of reasons for why their children were absent. “Not going to school for health reasons, also not having uniforms, not feeling welcome at the school, not feeling safe.”
Deputy Mayor Len Redon had a long talk with a mother whose son has missed a lot of school days.
“The woman had recently had a baby, had some complications. She seemed to really get the message her son really needed to be in school,” Redon said. “She said he’s very bright and she knew this wasn’t good, but with all the trials and tribulations of the new baby she wasn’t able to get him there as regularly.”
Vargas found a mother whose child frequently misses the bus.
“We send the bus every day here. The case is the child is not ready to go onto the bus,” Vargas said. “The fact is you have to get your child to school one way or another.”
Vargas talked to another parent whose son has medical problems. He said the school nurse can dispense his medication or home tutoring can be provided.
Vargas said he doesn’t want to blame parents, but work with them. He says attendance is a community problem.
“I offer every support that I can offer. And then at the end of the day if it all fail, we’ll have to use the Family Court system,” Vargas said.
If a child is absent 20 consecutive days, the district will contact child protective services.