PARKERSBURG - More than 1,300 Wood County Schools students are considered truant under state law.
Chris Rutherford, attendance director for Wood County Schools, said truancy is defined in state code as having five or more unexcused absences, and so far this year 1,375 students meet that definition.
Rutherford said about 16 percent of the school system's more than 13,400 students have missed 10 or more days of school, either with excused or unexcused absences. Rutherford called those "chronic absences," and said students logging in more than 10 missed days a year are dramatically less likely to graduate high school.
"Our biggest threat to graduation, in my opinion, are chronic absences," he said. "These are kids who miss 10 percent of the school year."
Rutherford presented the numbers Tuesday night to the Wood County Board of Education during a presentation on the district's student support specialists. The 14 positions were created through President Barack Obama's jobs bill last year and allowed for a district wide initiative to identify at-risk students and to get information and support to their families.
Rutherford said the specialists have logged in 8,800 "contacts" this year with about 1,760 students. In some cases the specialists have met with families to warn of the legal consequences of truancy and in others have helped families seek services, such as in cases of job loss and loss of transportation.
About 16 percent of the school system's more than 13,400 students have missed 10 or more days of school, either with excused or unexcused absences.
Wood County school system has sent official notices to the families of 758 students warning their truancy violated state code and could result in parents being taken to court.
So far the school system has sent official notices to the families of 758 students warning their truancy violated state code and could result in parents being taken to court. Of those notices, about 150 were for students in elementary school, a number Rutherford said officials have seen rising in recent years. The most dramatic increase in unexcused absences, he said, was among kindergarten-age students.
"Kindergarten is very troubling to me," he said.
Still, Rutherford said the intervention initiatives have seen good success this year and pointed to increased attendance rates as proof.
"We're outpacing last year and we're going to continue outpacing last year," he said. "I think those numbers speak for themselves."
Rutherford said he believed more needed to be done, and the school system needed more community outreach in dealing with truant and chronically absent students.
"We need to work with our community more. We need the community to be more involved," he said.
Rutherford said funding for the student support specialists expires at the end of this year, and those positions are included in the school system's reduction-in-force. Rutherford said he is exploring other funding avenues in the hopes of keeping those positions.
"In six months we've already made great strides," he said. "I'd like to keep them if I can."