NLTA Vice-President

Dedicated to my grandfather, Baxter Langdon; small in stature but walked tall with integrity...

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Student Absenteeism & the Present Problem: Who's Accountable?

Within each and every school in Newfoundland & Labrador lurks an increasingly larger and more vulnerable demographic of our student population: the absentee student.

I am not referring to the child or adolescent that is absent occasionally for valid reasons but the student and family that becomes entangled within in a web of school refusal, family crisis, apathy, or an inability to see the value of full attendance. In certain cases, students miss entire academic years with the result being social promotion (i.e. pushing the student on to the next grade in spite of outcomes completed). Adding to this dilemma is the fact that these students have diagnosed (and undiagnosed) exceptionalities (e.g. ADHD, anxiety, low cognitive ability, etc.) further magnifying the vulnerability of these students.

These students and their families are charting a course for significant personal difficulty and struggle with no clear response plan on the part of our social service agencies. 

Schools and teachers look for opportunities and take exhaustive steps to draw these students back into regular attendance through multiple meetings and communications with caregivers, alternate arrangements for evaluation, and attempts to include Child, Youth, & Family Services (CYFS) & medical personnel in developing response plans.

When response efforts are unsuccessful at the school level, the safety net unravels.  CYFS personnel are limited by directives that truancy does NOT fall within their mandate.

So, the saga continues for these students whereby many skip their junior high years to enter high school with Grade 5 or 6 being the last grade successfully completed.

As an educator, I see this story repeat itself year after year. It is time that this crisis be addressed and responses be driven by all players (in addition to school-based personnel). School attendance is vital to a child's growth and development and therefore needs to be part of the CYFS mandate. There is great promise in these students and families however an empty seat brings no promise at all.


  1. Hi Trent,
    I enjoy reading your blogs and this one truly resonated. As a former Special Needs Literacy Facilitator and current Addictions Nurse Specialist, I believe that accountability lays, in part, to negative attitudes based on ill-informed information and/or false beliefs.

    As a parent in the late 90s trying to navigate the Ontario education system with a child diagnosed with learning disorder, it astounded me that ADD/ADHD was equated with underachievers and the message to parents was to accept the “limitations” that came with this diagnosis. And that is what we did, regardless of academic levels, we pushed our kids through the grades, unprepared, setting unobtainable goals and triggering the onset of mental health issues that we see today, including but certainly not limited to, anxiety, depression and addiction.

    Budget cuts to education in Ontario has produced astronomical student to teacher ratios. Consequently, teachers became overwhelmed trying to keep up with the many learning differences. Over sized classrooms lead to the belief that if a child was not reaching his or her potential, it was because of a learning disability. Aside from over medicating our children, this attitude also saw numerous children born from immigrants whose mother tongue was not English, become falsely identified.

    Fast forward 15 years later and I shudder to think that my home province is repeating the same mistake again with education budget cuts likely to increase class sizes in the province. On the contrary, an investment in education is needed and we also need to embrace an attitude that fosters a level learning field for all children.

    1. Paula...thanks so much for your message. Your words very well describe the experiences of many families in our province. The recent budget announcement certainly does not address our concerns re: resourcing of the inclusive education model and is actually quite regressive. There comes a point sometimes whereby we have no other choice than to finance essential is time that education finally becomes viewed as one of those essential services.