Editorial: Schools need parental involvement to better combat truancy

For primary schools with a chronic truancy problem, getting to the root of the problem is the first step toward improvement.

Public school districts, both with and without a truancy problem, should put a system into place that involves parents in their child’s education. Technology exists that allows school administration to inform parents of their children’s truancy records, and it needs to be improved and mandated at a state level to address the issue of chronic truancy. But more importantly, poverty — undoubtedly the underlying issue in western Pennsylvania’s struggle with truancy rates — also needs to be addressed.

Last year, almost 21,000 students in western Pennsylvania were classified as truant. In the state of Pennsylvania, three or more unexcused absences is considered truancy. By this definition of truancy, Wilkinsburg High School had the highest truancy rate in the region last year at 76.21 percent. This was a nearly 20-percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year.

A main reason truancy rates in the region are so high is the poverty that lingers in Pittsburgh’s suburbs. Parents are forced to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet, which leaves them very little time to look out for their children. If children lack the incentive to attend school on their own, then they will be more likely to skip. These issues need to be addressed in addition to truancy.

The Greensburg Salem School District, located in Westmoreland County, has enacted a system as part of a countrywide pilot program to combat truancy. After a student has missed his or her third unexcused day of school, letters are sent home to the parents, informing them of the situation. After the student’s fourth unexcused absence, a meeting between the student, parents and administration is scheduled. After five unexcused absences, a district judge and the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau become involved in the situation.

Pennsylvania public school districts must adopt similar systems to promote school attendance and parental involvement in education.

Ultimately, schools with a chronic truancy problem need to develop a system that involves parents. Schools could send out emails or letters informing parents of their child’s truancy, alerting them to the issue at hand. Instead of waiting until the student’s fourth unexcused absence, a meeting with the student, parents and administration should be scheduled after a third absence, whether in person or over a conference call. These meetings would enable the administration to get to the root of the student’s truancy and make strides toward resolving the problem.

Additionally, the underlying issue of poverty also needs to be addressed. Funding must be provided to ensure that every child in the state has the opportunity to attend preschool, an experience that has proven to be instrumental in a student’s success later in life. Job training centers must also receive additional funding so parents have the opportunity to receive training for skilled jobs that grant higher pay. This would relieve some of the financial and temporal strain on working parents and would also demonstrate to their children the importance of education.

Improving truancy rates requires the involvement of parents in addition to school administration.