Vainieri Huttle, Muoio, Singleton, Caputo & Jasey Bill To Address Chronic Absenteeism In Public Schools Goes To Governor

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Elizabeth Muoio, Troy Singleton, Ralph Caputo & Mila Jasey to tackle student absenteeism in public schools received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor's desk.

"Chronic absenteeism creates problems for schools and makes it harder for students to excel," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Having a coalition of people who can step in and get to the root of the problem can help cut down on school absences and keep students on the right track."

"Chronic absenteeism creates major academic challenges for students, teachers and school administration, and is a gateway to countless challenges later in life for those students who suffer the negative effects of missing school," said Muoio (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). "The recent successful efforts of schools like Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School in Trenton show the importance and value of having in place collaborative school-wide programs involving teachers, administrators, parents and students, aimed at addressing and overcoming the roots of absenteeism."

"Excessive absences can signal problems at home," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "Having a plan in place to tackle the problem head on, and involving parents in the process, can help reduce any potential for conflict and help students who may have been falling behind refocus on their studies."

"If students are not in school, they are not learning," said Caputo (D-Essex). "There are many reasons why students might be skipping school. It is important that school administrators spring into action and work with parents to identify any underlying issues and get these students back on track."

"Chronic absenteeism can't be and shouldn't be resolved by schools alone," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "Having an action plan that can be implemented promptly, and that involves parents can help ensure that the problem is addressed with the best interest of students at the forefront." 

The bill (A-2352) would require that, in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. The plan must include, but need not be limited to: (1) identifying problems and barriers to school attendance; (2) developing recommendations to address those problems and barriers; (3) outlining communication strategies to educate parents on the importance of school attendance; (4) establishing protocols on informing and engaging parents when a child begins to show a pattern of absences; and (5) reviewing school policies to ensure that they support improved school attendance. 

The school must solicit input from parents through multiple means, including through the administration of a survey, engaging with the school's parent organization, and, if the school does not have a parent organization, holding a public meeting to provide parents with the opportunity to provide input. The school would be required to present its corrective action plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan, and present the revisions to the board, until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.

The bill would also require the Commissioner of Education to include data on the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent, and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension in the school report cards. The commissioner must annually review the chronic absenteeism rates of each school and school district and report on the rates to the State Board of Education.

The term "chronically absent," as used in the bill, would be defined pursuant to rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Education within 90 days of the bill's effective date. 

The bill would be effective immediately. 

This bill was approved 69-0 by the Assembly today, and 40-0 by the Senate on June 26, 2017.

Original Article