Investigation into chronically absent teachers

The government is currently collecting data on chronic teacher absenteeism

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Data from the U.S. Department of Education is giving us a closer look at how many Horry County teachers are chronically absent from the classroom.

Teachers are considered chronically absent if they miss ten or more days of class time in one school year.

The Office for Civil Rights said absenteeism means the teacher “was not in attendance on a day in the regular school year when the teacher would otherwise be expected to be teaching students in an assigned class. This includes both days taken for sick leave and personal leave.”

“When teachers are not in the classroom obviously that’s an issue,” said Horry County School Board Chairman, Joe DeFeo.

Overall, about 34% of teachers in the Horry County School District were chronically absent during the 2013-2014 school year.  While the data was collected in 2014, it was just publicly released in 2016.

During the same years, 51.3% of St. James Elementary School teachers were chronically absent. At Conway High School and Pee Dee Elementary the number was just above 49%.

News13 reached out to staff members at the schools to ask what has been done since 2014 to improve the numbers. However, we were instructed to get a statement from the Horry County Schools Public Information Officer, Teal Britton. The statement said in part:

“Horry County Schools understands the value of having teachers in our classrooms each and every day. At the same time, we understand that illnesses, both personal and within a family, occur throughout the year, making it necessary for teachers to be away from the classroom.”

One of the schools with the lowest percentage of chronically absent teachers was Socastee High School, where 20.34% of their teachers missed ten or more days during the school year.

“Teachers have to have contact with students every day,” said Socastee High School Principal, Paul Browning. “We treat teachers like professionals. I think they respond to that with good attendance.”

Chairman DeFeo said while the numbers are concerning, he would have to look at the individual reports for the school to see more detailed information.

“What this report should have done is really broken it down, if that’s even possible, into the reasons or at least generalize the reasons,” he added. “It doesn’t give a true story until you look at the details.”

DeFeo said teachers could be out for an extended amount of time for many reasons including maternity leave and sickness.

“If you have 25 or 30 in your class there’s a good chance that one or two are sick,” said DeFeo. “It’s very hard to work with the kids, pick up their papers and their pencils, talk to them and interact with them without the possibility of getting sick.”

When News13 asked school district staff what’s being done to bring these chronic absentee numbers down, we were told to look at data in the State Report Card.

Instead of chronic teacher absences, it reports teacher attendance rate. For the same year the Office for Civil Rights data was collected, the State Report Card says Horry County teachers had an attendance rate of 95%. That means around 95% of teachers were in the classroom on any given day.

Going forward, DeFeo said he hopes principals are making decisions based on their own data.

“Regardless of the report, they need to be looking at this every day,” he added. “If there’s a problem teacher and that’s what they see then that needs to be dealt with.”

We also reached out to the U.S. Department of Education to ask why they collected this data. A spokesman said:

“The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) collects data on teacher absenteeism, defined as absent for more than 10 days (for any reason, except professional development), because research has shown that if a teacher is absent by more than ten days, the days absent have an adverse effect on classroom instruction, with the result that the students receive a level of instruction approximately equivalent to that of a first-year teacher.”

The federal government is currently collecting its newest set of data on chronic teacher absenteeism. News13 has requested that data and will continue to keep you updated on this story.

You can see how many teachers were chronically absent at a particular school by clicking: here.

You can also view the State Report Card by clicking here.