Detroit Taking Drastic Actions to Curb Students Missing School

Robocalls and personal interventions combat absenteeism

Detroit Public Schools has started a program that sends groups of teachers out into the community to meet with parents. Their purpose is to combat what appears to be the highest absenteeism rate in the state.

For two years now, the district has sent out teams of teachers to students' homes to build relationships with families and discuss academic progress. In some cases, the teams return two or three times to the same home.

“This started in two schools and has expanded to two more in our initial stage,” said Michelle Zdrodowski, the spokeswoman for Detroit Public Schools. “We will review at the end of this year to examine overall outcomes. However, initial reports are really encouraging.”

DPS has tried different strategies and policies in the past few years to lure students back to school. In a student population of 50,000 individuals, the district experienced 1.5 million absences in 2014-15. The district says these include days missed due to illness, suspensions, pending expulsions and more. The district also believes the number reflects hundreds of students who registered for school in the next grade but never attended or have moved to another district.

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A DPS spokeswoman said the district’s absence rate is approximately 5.5 percent of a student's “enrolled days,” which was not defined.

A fairly new districtwide attendance policy calls for intervention after three absences. Also, three instances of unexcused tardiness of more than 15 minutes count as one unexcused absence.

After three unexcused absences, a phone call is made to the student’s home and an attendance agent is notified.

After six unexcused absences, a student is referred to an attendance agent for intervention strategies. These can include home visits by state child welfare agents. The district also does nightly robocalls to parents to notify them when a student has not attended class on the previous day.

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