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Task force create to address on chronic absenteeism in schools

Mayor Mike Bloomberg just announced on Thursday, June 10 the creation of an interagency task force to reduce long term absenteeism by students in public schools.

The new task force will be headed up by the mayor’s chief adviser for the policy and strategic planning.

The goal of the task force is to reduce the number of children in the public school system that are labeled as ‘chronically absent’ from school.

The group believes chronic absenteeism, affecting as many as 20% of all children enrolled, seriously undermines academic success. Children are considered chronically absent when they miss 22 or more days of school per year. If they miss 38 or more days, they are classified as suffering from severe absenteeism.

Mayor Bloomberg was on hand at C.S. 61 and I.S. 190 at 1550 Crotona Park East for the announcement.

He was joined by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt, who will head up the task force, chancellor of schools Joel Klein, Department of Youth and Community Development commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav, Department of Health commissioner Thomas Farley, Department of Homeless Services commissioner Seth Diamond, NYC Chief Service Officer Diahann Billings-Burford, NYPD assistant chief Thomas Chan, deputy commissioner for the Division of Child Protection Jan Flory, ACS PINS/DAS program director Sara Hemmeter, Children’s Aid Society CEO and president Richard Buery, and task force chair Leslie Cornfeld.

“New York City’s public schools have had remarkable success this year, and over the past eight years, in improving the educational outcome for our students,” Feinblatt said. “Test scores have improved, graduation rates are higher than ever and our student attendance rates have improved at all grade levels. However, we want to do even better. Too many students are missing opportunities that our public schools provide. Developing a comprehensive approach to this problem requires a well-coordinated, interagency effort overseen and supported by the mayor’s office.”

Bloomberg said that even though he believes public schools have improved dramatically since he took office in 2002, the issue of long term absenteeism merits increased attention and study. The task force will launch the city’s first ever comprehensive initiate to reduce truancy and chronic absenteeism. It will focus largely on early intervention in the elementary and middle schools.

“Truancy is often a child’s first step in the wrong direction,” Bloomberg said. “Chronic absenteeism leads to higher rates of school failure, delinquency, and dropping out. From there, it is often hard to recover. We are going to focus on truant children because keeping them in school is an investment in their health, future success, and everyone’s safety. The sooner we can identify the cause of truancy and absenteeism, the sooner we can get that child back on track.”

Research shows that three out of four students who are chronically absent in the sixth grade never graduate from high school. The task force will work on developing responses to early warning signals in the early years of education, before truancy is in entrenched habit.

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