Nearly a quarter of all Montgomery County Public School students are currently considered “chronically absent,” according to new data shared with MoCo360 this month. A comprehensive action plan to address absenteeism was mentioned publicly in March and is expected to be released before the start of next school year.
Student truancy continues to be a high concern for officials and parents alike as the school district grapples with post-pandemic learning loss and mental health exacerbations.
“Truancy is one of our biggest topics of conversation as teachers right now,” White Oak Middle School teacher Jess Porrovicchio said. On June 8, she said five students were missing from her classroom. “That’s 20% of my class, and I don’t know why they weren’t here.”
The new plan will “tighten up” school policy to ensure chronically absent students receive appropriate discipline, according to MCPS spokesperson Jessica Baxter. Current policy states in the event of an unexcused absence, the school counselor will meet with the student and their caregivers, verify the reason for the absence and “determine appropriate interventions.”
“Kids are smart. They’ll work the system. If they know they can skip class and still pass, and there’s no disincentive—I mean, it’s going to happen,” Porrovicchio said.
MCPS spokesperson Aisha Mbowe told MoCo360 in June that nearly 25% of all MCPS students are considered “chronically absent,” meaning they missed 10% or more of all enrolled school days in the year. The national average is around 33%, Mbowe said. She did not provide the state average.
Officials say the absenteeism rate could be much higher in some Montgomery County schools.
School board member Grace Rivera-Oven (Dist. 1) recently visited John F. Kennedy High School in Glenmont, where she said she was told the truancy rate averages 50%.
At a June 6 school board meeting, Rivera-Oven was the only board member to vote against appointing Vickie Adamson as Kennedy’s new principal. She told MoCo360 her reasoning had nothing to do with Adamson’s qualifications, but that she was disappointed the district didn’t prioritize hiring a Hispanic principal to better reflect and connect with the student population—and that doing so could have directly helped curb truancy. Around 70% of Kennedy’s student population is Hispanic or Latino, Rivera-Oven said.
“Students are more engaged in their education when they feel represented by their staff,” she said. “For me, a principal who can communicate 100% with the population versus somebody who can only communicate with 30% makes a huge difference. […] I felt I had to vote with my conscience in sharing those concerns.”
Porrovicchio echoed Rivera-Oven’s concerns about students’ lack of investment in their school journeys. She has been teaching for 15 years, seven of them within Montgomery County, and said she’s never seen such a high level of apathy among her students.
“They’re way more checked-out, it seems,” she said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged switch to virtual learning may have been a large contributing factor. “I’ve never seen it like this before. Students just aren’t engaged.”
MCPS did not immediately respond to requests for the average absenteeism rate at other high schools in the district.
A first draft of the new plan was completed in late April, according to Mbowe. It will have two major sections: school-based actions and central office support. She said specific details will be shared once the plan is finalized before the start of next school year.
“The action plan is meant to systematize some current practices to reduce variance across schools, and to introduce some novel strategies based on both quantitative and qualitative data,” she wrote to MoCo360, adding that the input process has been underway since May.
“As with most plans, we want to ensure it goes through the proper feedback channels from the leadership level to the school level in order to approach the plan in a collaborative and effective manner.”