Chronic student absenteeism plagues Pinellas; union leader calls for action
Pinellas students are chronically absent from class at a higher rate than students in any other Florida district with more than 100,000 students.
According to the state Department of Education, 13 percent of Pinellas students last year were absent for 21 or more days over the course of the school year.
Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, left, has had enough.
"This data calls for immediate action," she wrote to superintendent John Stewart and school board members last week. "Teachers have been stating that something is dramatically wrong regarding student attendance. This problem is not new."
In March, Black asked the district to create a task force to look at the problem, but said she's heard and seen nothing in response. The ramifications of student absenteeism could be as significant for teachers as for their students, she said.
"With strong emphasis placed on high-stakes testing in order to drive student achievement, assign school grades, evaluate teachers and distribute performance pay, the critical missing link in all of these discussions is student attendance," she wrote. "Not to mention the high cost of low graduation rates. We must look at the data and develop policies that support accountability and learning."
In response to Black's email, Stewart wrote back that he had asked staff attorney Laurie Dart to report to him how truancy and absenteeism is handled in the district and also planned to form a committee to "investigate the issue and make recommendations for potential implementation."
In the attachments below, you will find a copy of Black's letter, her comments to the school board in March and the DOE's district-by-district database of chronic absenteeism from the 2010-11 school year.