Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Early Habit of Being Late

A Virginia school district is standing by its zero-tolerance policy on tardiness, even when it results in a court summons for parents who fail to make sure their children regularly arrive on time for class. Some parents in the Loudoun County Public Schools believe the county is being overly zealous in enforcement.

“This is the nanny state gone wild,” parent Mark Denicore told the Washington Post.

Denicore’s three children have been late to their elementary school more than 30 times since the academic year began in September–often arriving within three minutes of the bell, the Post reports.

Report cards for the Denicore students—who are 6, 7 and 9 years old—suggest being late isn’t hurting them academically, according to the news story. School district officials argue it isn’t fair to the other students in the room to have their learning environment continually disrupted by late arrivals.

When we think about habitual attendance issues, it’s usually in the context of high school or perhaps middle school students who decide to skip school altogether. In fact, absenteeism in the younger grades is often an overlooked problem, according to Attendance Works, a national advocacy organization.

School districts nationwide are struggling to address truancy, and some states have responded by passing legislation with stiffer consequences. In at least 27 states, skipping school will cost you your driver’s license. In some districts, parents of habitual truants can face stiff fines and jail time.

In a 2008 report, the National Center on Children in Poverty estimated that one out of every 10 students in kindergarten and first grade were chronically absent, missing nearly a month of school over the course of an academic year. Attendance Works followed with its own study last year, which suggested that missing school in early childhood can take a heavy toll on a student’s long-term academic performance. When tested as third graders, students who had been chronically absent kindergarteners and first graders scored significantly below their peers who had better attendance–the gap was 60 points in reading and 100 points in mathematics.

Do these studies mean that Loudoun school officials are not, in fact, overreacting? Not necessarily. But there’s clearly a reason to push for students to be on time – every day.


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