UPDATE: This story has been updated to incorporate comments from the Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education President that were not available at press time.
GREELEY — In a year when Colorado schools are fighting for every penny possible because of budget cuts, one district has found a unique way to get as many students as possible to attend class on the state’s annual count day — threaten the parents.
School districts across Colorado are funded based on the number of students in classes on Oct. 1 each year.
A social media post on Facebook Sept. 30 by Greeley-Evans School District 6 didn’t say anything about why it was so important that children were in attendance either Sept. 30 or Oct. 1, but it did make clear the consequences if they were not.
“If you have enrolled your children in any District 6 school — either in-person or online — they must attend and/or log into their classes TODAY, or TOMORROW for high school students, to be considered present and not truant. If you fail to log in or have your students in school, District 6 will report these cases to truancy officers for follow up,” the post partially read. It goes on to say the need for enrollment confirmation was “important we know all students are safe.”
Comments on the post as well as shares on Facebook and Twitter were critical of the district’s tactic.
“Highly inappropriate,” one Tweet reads. “Being absent for one day is not truancy.”
The school district clarified its intent in a comment to another poster further down its original post saying it was for students who had not logged in at all since the start of school, and insisted the post was not about money.
“It’s not just about state funding,” the District 6 Facebook page moderator posted. “We are concerned about the safety and health of students as well. We need to locate students who signed up for school but haven’t shown up to school.”
Greeley Evans School District 6 Board of Education President Michael Mathews said he had not had a chance to see the post, as it had been taken down by the district at some point, but said he could understand why some parents might be upset.
“I can imagine people whose kids have been in school saw that and thought, ‘wait a minute,’ ” Mathews said, adding that he didn’t think the tone of the post was intentional and may have just been bad timing.
“There have been ongoing efforts to find kids,” Mathews said, referencing an update at the school board’s most recent meeting about the topic. “It’s pretty predictable that it is more difficult this year than it has been in past years to identify and find those kids. But I know the district has been looking for those children for weeks.”
Others said the timing of the post showed different, noting the district’s concern for students’ safety didn’t come until more than a month after classes started and in conjunction with student count day.
“Where was the concern for students prior to count day?” Another Tweeter asked. “When we reached out for help to bridge the digital divide our district gave us no support. Many families have had to ride the crisis on their own. You don’t win over families with threats.”
While most understood the need for count day, they believed the threat of truancy went too far, especially considering the circumstances.
“District 6 has consistently attempted to overstep its authority in our experience,” another parent said. “For a school system to leverage truancy as much as District 6 does is disgraceful. To do so under the current situation. … I don’t even have the words.”
Mathews said the district has an obligation to find the students whose parents enrolled them, but have failed to show up, acknowledging that the urgency for enrollment is more important this year than ever.
“It’s not our primary concern,” Mathews said, “but we do need to find funding, and attendance is attached to that. If we get ahead of finding them before the official count day, we are better able to serve them.”