Marion County School Board set to tackle growing student absences, truancy rates

Chronic student absenteeism is about 7% over the state of Florida’s average

OCALA Fla. – Marion County Public Schools are set to tackle a growing issue in the district as rates for student absenteeism and truancy are now higher than the state average.

According to the agenda set for Thursday’s school board work session, board members are set to hear a presentation by Mr. Jonathan McGowan, who is the director of the mental health and wellness department for the district.

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Within the presentation, it is noted that chronic student absenteeism is about 7% over the state of Florida’s average.

News 6 spoke with some parents enjoying their last few moments of their student’s holiday break at Tuscawilla Park before the start of the spring semester to hear their thoughts on the matter.

“It was a surprise, however, not really because I knew a lot of folks who didn’t want to bring their kids to school,” Erik Stewart said.

Tara Hinds was also at the park with her daughter and said, “We were all paranoid I guess really, most of us kept our kids in and just did the best we could.”

Both Hinds and Stewart point to the COVID-19 pandemic being a potential reason for kids not making it to the classroom, and school leaders News 6 spoke to agree.

“We were actually on a downward trend of chronic absenteeism and truancy, and COVID reversed both of those are up, unfortunately,” said Kevin Christian who is the director of public affairs for Marion County Schools.

He says while the problem is not unique to Marion County, school leaders are working on a multi-tiered approach to get results.

“For us, that means not just people at the school level, but people at the district level as well from our mental health and social work services departments,” said Christian, “Kids are under a lot of stress these days because a lot of families are under a lot of stress in many cases.”

In the presentation set for Thursday, the district’s multi-tiered approach also lists some potential means on improving attendance like making phone calls home and sending messages from a student’s respective school to encourage attendance.

There are also mentions of conducting progress monitoring and problem-solving meetings to keep track of and hopefully solve any issues of attendance in schools.

Christian says there are several reasons why students are absent.

From not being able to adjust coming back from virtual learning to a lack of enthusiasm from school.

“We’ve got to get students in our community back into the mindset that school is important,” Christian said.

Stewart says he didn’t have a hard time adjusting coming back from virtual learning saying a child’s education should always be number one.

“You must be educated to in order to live thorough life period, not just here but everywhere,” Stewart said.

As a reminder, school leaders are set to meet at the Marion County School Board auditorium Thursday morning discussing their options on tackling students being absent.

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About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.