House approves McNamara bills that address school attendance, pandemic-related extended absences


STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives today approved two bills introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) that focus on school attendance, including addressing the unique educational challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has generated.

The first bill (2022-H 7062) would provide that in developing alternative-learning plans, consideration would be given to the unique difficulties and interruptions that many students have experienced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alternative learning plans include extended learning opportunities as independent study, private instruction, performing groups, internships, community service, apprenticeships, and online courses that are currently funded and available to the school department and the community

“COVID-19 significantly changed in-person learning and access to school-based services, which had a profound effect on the psychological well-being of our children,” said Representative McNamara. “This legislation would allow alternatives that may not be preferable under ordinary circumstances, such as extended breaks in study.”

This act would also authorize the granting of extended absences from school that is not intended to be permanent, but is permitted because of the pandemic’s unique difficulties and interruptions.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (2022-S 2572) has been introduced by Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket).

The second bill (2022-H 7167A) would direct school districts experiencing high rates of student absenteeism to establish attendance support teams to address this absenteeism.

“Students who are frequently absent are far more likely to miss important learning opportunities, are less likely to stay engaged, and are of far greater risk of dropping out,” said Representative McNamara, who chairs the House Education Committee. “According to the most recent Kids Count Factbook, 39 percent of middle school students and 47 percent of high school students were considered truant by the Department of Education, which defines truancy as 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year. This legislation would strongly combat this troubling trend.”

The bill would require an attendance review team in any school district with a chronic absenteeism rate of 10 percent or greater. It would also require a team at any individual school with a chronic absenteeism rate of 15 percent or greater.

“These attendance review teams, which would meet at least once a month, would specifically investigate the reasons for the absenteeism,” said Representative McNamara. “We need to develop a community response that does a better job of interacting among students, teachers and parents, not only identifying what works in reducing absenteeism, but what doesn’t work. Identifying strategies that improve attendance has to be part of any school intervention.”

The act would also direct the Department of Education to establish a chronic absenteeism prevention and intervention plan by Jan. 1, 2023. The act would also direct the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to include each school district’s absenteeism rate within the report on school discipline presented annually to the General Assembly, and to include the school or district’s absenteeism rate in any report card or evaluation of the effectiveness of a school or district.

The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.