AP graphic of school classroom desks
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - Grand Rapids Public Schools is sending a message to parents. Have your kids in school, on time, every day... or else.
District officials say the absenteeism problem has grown out of control and improving student attendance is one of the district's top priorities as we head into a new school year.
"It is going to be a full court press district wide on attendance," said spokesperson, John Helmholdt.
The district has launched an aggressive campaign to let parents know that chronic absenteeism will no longer be tolerated.
"We have chronic absenteeism that is far too high. More than 20% of our students are chronically absent. That means they are missing 12 or more school days. We know there is a direct correlation between attendance and academics and when you miss a number of days you're missing out on that instruction and falling behind and with the new state graduation requirements. Once you get behind it is hard to get caught back up and stay on track to graduate," he said.
According to Helmholdt the problem exists in all grade levels but is most prevalent in middle and high schools.
"There are some of our schools that over 50% chronic absenteeism mostly in the middle schools and high schools that is half the kids in the building missing more than 12 days of school," said Helmholdt.
But he added that, under the new Transformation Plan, a new day is coming to the district.
"Superintendent Neal has said if you are not going to adhere to our standards and our expectations then maybe GRPS is not the school district for you. Maybe it is time for you to go find another choice. We cant just roll over and accept whatever regardless of what our standards are, said Helmholdt.
The district is backing up that strong language with strong actions. Helmholdt says each building will have teams tracking attendance. The district will also aggressively contact parents about their kids missing school and will use truancy officers and Grand Rapids Police to help enforce the policy.
In the "more extreme" cases Helmholdt says they may contact The Department of Human Services. "Because they have a new policy where attendance is tied to public assistance," he said.
"Gone are the days when we have been concerned about declining enrollment and try to hold onto every student. Well that is not our focus anymore, Our focus is on quality," he said.