JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio talks to a PRP High School student during class change. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This post has been updated with comment from Gay Adelmann. 

Student attendance in Jefferson County appears to drop post-district closing sickouts, according to district data.

On any given Friday this school year, around 92 percent of JCPS’ 98,000 students will be in class. That held steady after the first district closure on Feb. 28 — just under 92 percent of students showed up on March 1.

But those figures declined after a string of protests in the middle of the week. After two missed days in the first week of March, attendance on March 8 dropped to 85.1 percent — seven percentage points.

And after three missed days the following week, student attendance on March 15 fared only slightly better at 86.3 percent, according to JCPS.

JCPS “can’t say for sure” what’s causing the shift in attendance, spokeswoman Renee Murphy said. Since January, JCPS has been running a student attendance campaign called #EveryDayCounts to boost those numbers and ensure students miss less than six days each year.

The district’s overall attendance rate has hovered around 93 percent to 94 percent since the 2009-10 school year, according to district data. So far this school year, JCPS’ average daily attendance rate is 93.53 percent, Murphy said.

Missed days could come from a number of potential causes: preplanned spring trips, parents not seeing the purpose of attending a single day of class before a weekend or pulling students out in solidarity with teachers.

At least one vocal group amid the sickouts, Dear JCPS, mentioned the idea of purposefully keeping students out of school the day after three consecutive sickouts.

“Hearing lots of parents are keeping their kids home tomorrow to show support for their teachers,” the page said in a Thursday night post. “That’s awesome, actually.”

Fewer students in a class could mean smaller class sizes and more individual attention from the teacher for students who “need a place to go.” Families with “greater access to resources” could keep their kids home, the post said.

“If it works, maybe it could even catch on as an every Friday thing. Who knows?”

Teachers and parents were overwhelmingly not fans of the idea. One teacher asked the group to stop making “dumb suggestions” in the comment section. Another called it “inaccurate and irresponsible.” Someone else asked if the page was hacked.

Many others said, no, sorry, our kids will be going to school.

“Although funding can be impacted short term, parents exercising their power to affect change can have a greater impact longer term,” Gay Adelmann, one of the founders of Dear JCPS, said Thursday morning. “We can’t keep prioritizing money over our students’ well being. That’s one of the reasons we’re in this mess in the first place.”

Continued notable drops in student attendance could impact the district’s average daily attendance, therefore potentially hindering per-pupil funding.

To find how much guaranteed SEEK funding a district will receive per student, Kentucky’s minimum base level — $4,000 — is multiplied by a district’s average daily attendance, or ADA, for the prior year. Some add-ons for serving at-risk students and other student subgroups are included on top of that to determine the total base funding.

A district’s five lowest attendance days get thrown out and don’t count towards the attendance rate, a University of Louisville education professor, Keith Davis, said. Those days can provide a cushion for situations like bad weather, security threats and, now, students missing after sickouts.

Like snow days or other closures, sickout days are made up at the end of the school year. With JCPS’ last day now June 7, some parents may keep students home on the days the sickouts are to be made up, either in action against March’s sickouts or to head off to preplanned family vacations.

“So, I think that, no matter how you slice it, it will result in a reduction in (average daily attendance) that will translate into a reduction in state SEEK funding,” Davis, a former superintendent, said.

A Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman, Jessica Fletcher, said it is hard to tell if such post-sickout drops could impact SEEK funds yet.

“That question is hard to answer because there are no other ‘sickout’ years to compare to,” Fletcher said. “JCPS will be permitted to drop their five lowest days of attendance, so we’ll have to wait to see what that looks like at the end of the year.”

Since the sickouts began, officials from both JCPS and KDE have urged teachers to find a way to protest contentious education bills while keeping schools open and students in the classroom.

“The transformative work we are in the midst of can’t happen if students are not in school,” Murphy said in a statement after the district’s second sickout on March 6.

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis echoed those concerns the following week, saying that continued work stoppages took needed instructional time away from students. He requested names of teachers who called in sick, their documentation of illness and district policies covering sick leave to develop policies to avoid future work stoppages.

On Tuesday, the JCPS school board said in a resolution that they are “highly concerned” about interruptions to student learning before asking Lewis to withdraw his request for sickout teacher names.

Lewis didn’t withdraw the request but said those teachers won’t be punished — if there are no more work stoppages. Fletcher did not immediately respond to if Lewis’ statement means teachers could face consequences should there be a seventh sickout.

The final day of the legislative session — and the final plausible sickout day — is March 28. It’s the Thursday before the final day before JCPS’ spring break — already a day some families miss.

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Olivia Krauth
Krauth reports on education in Louisville, including JCPS, the University of Louisville and state policy.Before joining Insider Louisville, she covered technology and business as a reporter at TechRepublic. She also spent time on the data team at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas as a Dow Jones intern.Krauth graduated from UofL, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism with a minor in Russian studies.Email Olivia at [email protected]