Chronic Absenteeism was the first topic discussed by Connecticut’s Trafficking in Persons Council at its June meeting on Thursday.
A student must miss 10 percent of school in an academic year to be declared chronically absent. That’s 18 days.
Council Chair Jillian Gilchrest said when children are habitually absent from school, it sends a red flag.
“Some of the youth who were being identified as victims of minor sex trafficking had been out of school for extensive lengths of time. And so instead of us going full steam ahead, trying to figure this out alone, we wanted to better understand what’s happening in the State of Connecticut with regards to chronic absenteeism.”
The Council invited Joe Vaverchak, attendance officer for New Britain Public Schools, who said the state has to address the problem right when a child enters the school system.
“If I said what grade level other probably than 12th grade do you think is the highest chronic rate for kids in Connecticut? Kindergarten. Kindergarten. When I first started looking at this, we had 30 percent of our kindergarteners chronically absent. And when I say 18 days, I’m taking 20, 40, 50 days of school.”
Vaverchak said poor attendance can be a better indicator of a student dropping out of high school than test scores. And that could lead to a chain of events where a student ends up being exploited.
“Chronic absenteeism bleeding into that homeless piece, which leads into that sex trafficking, which I had to unfortunately uncover at a high school last year,” Vaverchak said.
He says schools with chronic absence records are required by the state to create Attendance Teams to address the problem but that the solution is multi-layered. It includes reaching out to parents, creating a welcoming environment in schools and building relationships with students.