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COOS COUNTY — Chronic absenteeism in Coos County schools is on the rise.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, the number of chronically absent students has gone up since last year.

“The Regular Attenders Report showed that 80.3 percent of students are considered regular attenders, down from 81.3 percent the year before,”  a according to a press release from the ODE. “That means the chronically absent percentage increased from 18.7 percent to 19.7 percent.”

“We know that students who attend school regularly have more opportunity to learn, so tracking chronic absenteeism is critical,” said Acting State Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill. “There is a direct link between high instances of chronic absenteeism and low graduation rates; this is why chronic absenteeism is one of our school accountability measures in our Oregon Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act and why Governor Brown and the Legislature have invested in programs to address the issue.”

According to the release, ODE is implementing a statewide chronic absenteeism plan focusing on “state-level support for local districts and communities to decrease chronic absenteeism and improve high school graduation.” The state Legislature appropriated $7.4 million for the current biennium to do this.

ODE also plans on using data with local partners to make collaborative decisions to decrease chronic absenteeism and improve high school graduation rates and most notably to establish “learning environments that address health-related barriers and opportunities to decrease chronic absenteeism and improve high school graduation.”

Of course, Coos County became one of the first recipients of the Tribal Attendance Pilot Project (TAPP) grant last year, which is the first of its kind to improve attendance for American Indian/Alaskan Native students “in collaboration with the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon.”

Since receiving the grant, the Coos Bay School District hired Breana Landrum as an attendance advocate to work with the Coquille Tribe.

“Right now our schools are sitting at the state target of 92 percent for average daily attendance,” Breanna said. “Of course, when you look closer at that number, we have a 30 percent population at the elementary level that are chronically absent.”

To be chronically absent means a student is missing 10 percent of school.

“Though that doesn’t seem like much until you break it down,” Landrum said. “This school year is 171 days, so 10 percent is 17 days. That is over three weeks of school and when you start missing academic pieces and fall behind.”

Landrum and the district’s special program director, Lisa DeSalvio, said there is a culture surrounding elementary student education where parents often think missing a day of school here and there is no big deal.

“They think they can go to the zoo or fishing or take a week to visit Disneyland, but you can’t build a house before you build its foundation,” Landrum said. “Kindergarten is building a foundation to education.”

The TAPP grant’s focus may be to help Native students, but the Coquille Tribe has agreed to also spend its services to help all elementary-aged kids. However, Landrum is encouraging Native American parents to bring their children to school regularly with a reward system.

“We hold Native events through the year to build relationships,” Landrum said. “We had a reward day at the Pony Village Theater to watch a movie. If they didn’t meet the requirement to come, they were encouraged to touch base with us.”

Currently Landrum is most concerned with students who have already missed three-to-four days of school, which means they stand to not meet the yearly target of attended days.

“Of course that could also be that your kid got strep throat, so I’m just watching right now,” Landrum said.

Since being hired last year, Landrum and DeSalvio have seen an improvement in attendance. Of the district’s Native students, they saw a seven percent increase in attendance.

“Hopefully we will continue to see an improvement this year, but it’s hard to teach when there aren’t bodies in the chairs,” DeSalvio said.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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