The skipping situation

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, absenteeism has become an increasingly prevalent issue. According to the Clarke County School District Data Analytics Behavior and Attendance Dashboard, 25.8% of Cedar Shoals students were absent for more than 15 days during the 2017-18 school year. Five years later in the 2022-23 school year, this number increased to 46.3%. 

This attendance problem reflects a national trend as the pandemic continues to reverberate, particularly in schools with high poverty rates. According to Attendance Works, at schools where 75% or more of attending students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the absenteeism rate nearly tripled from 25% in 2017 to 69% in 2021. At Cedar, 83% of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

As a student that formerly skippied, Junior Idan Cancel has a checkered past with attendance. 

“I skipped at first because some of my friends told me to. They didn’t really want to worry about business in the classrooms,” Cancel said.

Senior Kai Cummings has a near spotless attendance record but understands why some students skip. 

“I think the reason people skip is probably because there’s a lot of work, a lot of stress and they can’t take their mind off of school. They go somewhere else to refresh and hangout,” Cummings said.

Skipping is disruptive to class time and causes students to miss out on important material. Graphic design teacher Christine Graziano takes student attendance very seriously. 

“Skipping obviously does not help the image of the school. It negatively reflects on us and it’s embarrassing,” Graziano said. “Students are not learning and they’re not getting what they need, and it’s just because they’re bored. I think we need to provide them with information that they don’t want to miss.” 

Considering Numbers

According to the CCSD Behavior and Attendance Dashboard, which is updated monthly, there are a total of 25,661 days of absence at Cedar this year through February. The 2021-22 school year totaled 43,033 days absent, marking a sharp incline from pre-COVID-19 years such as 2017-18, which totaled 20,205 days absent. 

“It’s a huge number, it’s crazy. That kind of number shows that at Cedar, you can just have fun and skip. I think it’s a very bad look on us,” Cummings said.

Freshmen make up the majority of Cedar’s absences with an absenteeism percentage rate of 15.6% for the grade level between 2017-24. Sophomore Samuel Lumpkin credits this number to newly found privileges.

“Freshmen coming into high school have more freedom (than in middle school). They try to use that freedom as much as they can until they get tired of it or mature,” Lumpkin said.

There are consistent staff members on hall duty and lunch duty. Thrandon Echols, an academic support specialist, supervises the cafeteria during lunch where he tries to ensure students aren’t using the time as an excuse to wander. 

“On average, I see maybe 15-20 regular hall-walkers. They’re either solo or with their friends but I tell them, ‘You kids go to class or come to lunch,’ but only some of them listen,” Echols said.

DISPLAYING DATA: A graphic shows the percentage of students with more than 15 days absent in 2022-23 at a state and local level. Infographic by Ruby Calkin.

Skipping Solutions

Finding effective punishments and solutions for skipping has become an increasing priority. According to the  CCSD Code of Conduct, disciplinary actions concerning attendance are categorized as ‘Severity Level 1’ out of three. Attendance related misconduct is defined as, “Repeated or excessive unexcused absences or tardiness; including failure to report to class, skipping class, leaving school without authorization or failure to comply with disciplinary sanctions.” Available disciplinary options include a verbal student conference, parent conference, admin time-out, loss of privileges, in-school suspension and out-of-school suspension. 

With educational time already missed, further removing students from the classroom may exacerbate the problem.

“The only way kids learn is if they are going to listen to the rules. When they don’t, they won’t do things the right way. You can’t give students ISS or OSS because they aren’t in class; that would only further the problem,” Cancel said.

 The district continues to stand by the path of restorative practices to address rule infractions. The CCSD Code of Conduct discusses commitment to the ideas of progressive discipline. Chronic skippers will have their previous records reviewed and, if necessary, are given OOS or face expulsion. 

Even with the occasional hall sweep, Cummings feels that there is a lack of action in the hallways when dealing with skippers.

“People aren’t really enforcing it (skipping discipline). With students, it’s not really that big of a deal. When you miss a class, nothing really happens to you except maybe missing an assignment. Apart from the work piling, there are no repercussions,” Cummings said. 

Dissonant punishment such as ISS potentially only further harms those who skip, so more effective monitoring of students could be the answer. 

“Have officers just walk around and check the passes anytime they go anywhere instead of just letting them walk by. We need an increase in hall security,” Lumpkin said. “If not, maybe instead of walking the halls, have them check the bathrooms every 15 or 30 minutes to see who’s skipping.” 

ADDING UP ABSENCES: A graphic displays the percent of Cedar students who were absent more than 15 days from 2018-19, the last year unaffected by the pandemic, and from 2022-24. The numbers from 2023-24 were last updated in February 2024. Data from the CCSD Student Behavior and Attendance Analysis Dashboard. Infographic by Ruby Calkin.

Student morale and Cedar’s reputation

If students have a negative attitude toward their learning environment, it can be hard to find a reason to be in the classroom.

“If someone is not motivated to work or motivated to be in the class, I don’t think they’re going to show up. If someone’s motivated, they want to be there,” Cummings said. 

According to the data from the Cedar Shoals Georgia Climate Survey, the positive student opinions in all areas dropped from the 2019 average of 72.4% to 70.5% in 2020. These values include topics such as social support, school safety and school climate. School connectedness dropped from 70.8% to 68.8% and school climate dropped from 69.4% to 66.6%.

“I guess people coming back from school lost feelings for social school engagement. Maybe smoking and vaping have something to do with it as well,” Lumpkin said.

The school administration is aware of the drop in positive responses and is concerned. Associate Principal of Operations Dr. Utevia Tolbert thinks that the problem lies in lack of motivation and school pride. 

“We have to be more open to creating more opportunities for students to want to be in school,” Tolbert said. “They don’t take pride in being a Jag or coming into Cedar Shoals, and I think that has to do with the negative connotations that are often associated with Cedar.”

Last year’s reintroduction of Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS) and the implementation of the new Classroom Behavior Matrix — Prepared, Respect, Integrity, Dedicated and Engaged (PRIDE) — were intended to help reduce skipping. But Lumpkin doubts the value of these programs. 

“Nobody really cares. Nobody was going to follow an acronym for the kind words and actions you should do. Students didn’t pay attention or learn ‘PRIDE.’ Barely anybody knows what ‘PRIDE’ stands for,” Lumpkin said.

Without a strong level of engagement or inclusion, students may feel detached and seek amity by skipping.

“We all know why students are underachieving or not coming to class. There’s a lot of anxiety, which is the big word for this generation. It’s the worst that it’s been for teenagers in a long time. I think we need to help by building relationships and providing a safe place where you’re interacting with your community and can thrive and learn,” Graziano said.

Studies collected by the CDC back up Graziano’s perspective. Data from 2021 shows more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad. Also shown, nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health.

Safety concerns

If students feel unsafe in their school environment, they may be less likely to attend and participate. The Georgia Climate Survey shows positive student opinions on school safety peaked in 2019 with 69.9% of students who filled out the form feeling “safe.” This number dropped the next year to 66.3% and went even lower in 2022 to 57.8%. 

“If you don’t feel safe in your environment, why would you want to be there?” Cummings said. “It’s a bummer now that you want your safety to be the number one priority and education second.”

Tolbert affirms Cummings’ opinion about the importance of safety.  

“You have to have a student voice, and I don’t think our students speak loudly enough around some of the situations,” Tolbert said. “I think administrative presence and security presence is everything, but I also think that building relationships with students helps them feel safe. Knowing that there’s an administrator or teacher that will at least hear them and their concerns and will do something about it reduces that feeling of ‘I’m not safe.’”

Unaccounted students in the hallways pose concern for potential illicit activity and security issues.

“It’s a safety concern to have large groups of students in the hallway. They’re hanging out with their friends and creating problems that will end up with them in trouble. It’s very dangerous to have that many students unaccounted for out and about,” Graziano said.

Moving into the future, some educators recommended providing more engaging content and catering to students with different learning styles as possible solutions to absenteeism. Tolbert thinks a new attendance policy would also be beneficial. 

“A new attendance policy would help. If you don’t get credit because you’re not in school or because you’re skipping, then I think that’s reasonable for not going to class,” Tolbert said.

With the Code of Conduct recently under review with by district, new policies may begin to be introduced. 

“We do everything possible to try to help students and correct their behavior. A lot of times it seems that we are tolerating behavior, but we’re really trying to change it,” Echols said.

STUDENT STATS: A graphic displays information about Cedar’s average absenteeism rate for 2023-24. This information is updated to February. Infographic by Ruby Calkin.

Gwendolyn Neace

Senior Landon Neace is a Broadcast Reporter for their second year with BluePrints. They are interested in Marine Biology and ecology for a career path, and enjoy hanging out with friends, listening to music, reading, and hiking. This year, they hope to create more engaging broadcast stories and improve their writing skills. In journalism, they enjoy working with other staff members and attending the conventions.

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