Dozens of students, 62 to be exact. That is how many students Flandreau Public School officials, Flandreau Santee Sioux tribal officials, local law enforcement, social services representatives and educators are trying to figure out how to get to class on a daily basis.
Educators in the district have met before over the growing concern with tardiness and truancy in the district, but this was perhaps the first meeting of its kind and scope, according to Superintendent Rick Weber. The group was pulled together, in large part, by the new School Resource Officer, Gabe Frias.
“Instead of letting it become a chronic problem,” said Frias, “How can we get to them right away in the morning? If they’re coming in late every day or missing two to three days a week, can we make contact with the parents?”
Truancy rates have been rising steadily in Flandreau over the past several years. Truancy, or chronic absence, is defined as being absent 10% or more of the calendar school year. Last year 78 students were considered chronically absent out of approximately 730 students in the district. This year, the number has already jumped to 128.
“The world can be a hard enough place at times,” said Moody County Sheriff Troy Wellman, part of the team in the room this past week. “You add on top of that not having a proper education and it just compounds how tough to navigate and deal with all around.”
Flandreau isn’t alone, school districts across the nation are reporting higher rates of student absenteeism and expressing concern over the rising numbers. More students, it’s believed, have left school to work in order to help their families with financial struggles. Some blame the pandemic, others say it is a general trend with students simply feeling like even a high school diploma doesn’t matter anymore. Educators in the room this past week added that truancy among students in high school is likely a result of the same students missing school when they were younger without consequence.
Deputy Frias along with all local law enforcement want to change that. Together, starting Monday of next week, they plan to start physically visiting the homes of chronically absent students and do welfare checks when it’s necessary. Discussions continue as to how to physically get missing and healthy students to school. Conversations are also being had as to how the district might better hold parents responsible and neglect charges may be something officers said they would have to consider.
“They (students) have an opportunity here that in other places many don’t have. We have to show them that we care about them and make the most of this. If this is something we need to do...then...we never know what they’ll be in the future — doctors, lawyers, anything they want. They just need someone to push them and show them that we care,” said Serena Peterson, part of the Johnson-O’Malley parent committee for the Flandreau Santee Sioux.
Superintendent Weber agreed and said anything Deputy Frias and law enforcement might do to help is better than what the district is doing now, “because whatever we’re doing is not getting these kids here.”