To address the growing numbers of absent students at Harrisburg High School, the new principal suspended half of all students.
Chronic absenteeism has long rifled school districts across the United States. Schools are perpetually finding new ways to address the issue, but one school district has taken the effort to a whole new level. To address the growing problem of attendance at the Harrisburg High School in central Pennsylvania, officials have suspended nearly half of the student body.
The brash crackdown came from the newly appointed principal at Harrisburg High School, Lisa Love. The new sheriff in town officially took over the duties as principal in January. “If you’re not in class, all you’re here to do then is to wreak havoc upon the school and disrupt the work that we are trying to do here,” Love said.
Over the past 45 days, more than 500 of Harrisburg High School’s 1,100 students had missed over a week’s worth of classes. According to Daily News, all of those students were suspended. 100 of them served a one-day suspension, and the others are still unknown as to how long they were sent home.
Other than having a serious attendance issue, Harrisburg High School has dismal outlooks in other areas as well. The school reports being troubled with poor test scores, and low graduation rates. New principal Love hopes that setting stricter punishments for poor attendance will boost academics. Speaking with local media, she said a “radical” shift was needed for the school.
According to Love’s words, suspensions were the last resort. “We don’t like to suspend. I don’t even like talking about suspensions. But because we’re in a place where our school is a priority school, we need to send the message that we value education first.” she said. But parents think otherwise. Around 100 of the suspended students from Harrisburg High School met with the new principal to discuss the mass suspensions. The parents believe the suspensions are useless. “What does that teach them?” one parent said via PennLive. Other parents are asking the same question. After all, the issue is getting the kids in the classroom, so how is forcing them to stay home helping the cause?
As radical as the decision may be, Love received support for her suspensions from Harrisburg High School superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney. The superintendent hopes the takeaway for students would act as a “wake-up call.” Signifying that in-place initiatives to keep kids in school aren’t working, Knight-Burney said “We can’t do the same ol’ same ol’ and then complain about it when we’re getting the same ol’ results.”
Across the nation, schools like Harrisburg High are reporting bleak outlooks on attendance trends. Attendance rates continue to plummet even as COVID rates continue to drop and schools continue to remain open. According to the National Survey of Public Education’s Response to COVID-19 conducted by the American Institute of Research (AIR), the average absence rate in America was about six percent. In 2020, that rate jumped to ten percent.
The pandemic has certainly made attendance issues like those at Harrisburg High School a problem, but attendance rates have been decreasing long before that. According to data released by the Department of Education, it was reported that over 7 million students, or one in six missed 15 or more days of school in 2016. Similarly, the worst absentee statistics occur within the high school level, like at Harrisburg High School.
As COVID rates wane and more kids are back in school full-time, the need to address the growing absentee rate in places like Harrisburg High School will likely pose a problem in public education. Maybe the answer is suspensions, and maybe it isn’t. However, it is something that needs to be addressed as the general state of education in America continues to be problematic.