A problem plaguing a school district in central Massachusetts is only getting worse. A new report shows the number of students who were chronically absent within Worcester Public Schools last year has increased.
When a student misses 18 or more school days during the year, it's referred to as chronic absenteeism by the state of Massachusetts. Last year, that rate went up nearly 17 percent in the school district, and it’s trending in the wrong direction.
"You worry about having under performing schools," said superintendent Maureen Binienda.
She said there are so many different reasons like being sick, missing the bus, and some students leaving the district without notice. Also included in the uptick are personal issues like homelesses.
More recently, some parents are keeping kids out of class over fears immigration officials will come into schools over deportation issues.
"President Trump's deporting all these families for no reason," said parent Raquel Cervera.
Binienda’s now trying to deal with each one through a new district wide task force. For starters, they developed an attendance report card now being sent to students and parents every 5 weeks.
"They will write goals to improve their attendance," said Binienda.
School leaders said if the trend isn’t reversed, under performing schools would be held accountable.
South High Community School had the highest chronic absence rate among the district’s K-12 schools last year, at more than 33 percent. But overall, Worcester is still below other large urban school districts in Massachusetts like Fall River, Boston, and Springfield.
Trending in the right direction, McGrath elementary school, going from nearly 16 percent chronically absent, to less than 10 percent in a year.
"We try to call our families right away when we start seeing a pattern," said principal Paula Severin.
Parents also also being encouraged to think of solutions outside the box.
"If everyone's here with attendance, you put a cotton ball in a jar. and at the end of the month, the class with the most cotton balls wins a prize," said Severin.
District leaders believe this trend will reverse by the next school year because they are introducing all kinds of new solutions and ideas like free ice skating lessons to keep students in the classroom.