BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — With mask mandates expired and general life returning to normal as the pandemic slowed down, most schools have gone back to the classroom. However, the number of students missing class is still up across the state.

“We have a very heavy docket, but everybody’s committed. We stay to the very last and are able to have their case heard,” said East Baton Rouge Parish Division B Juvenile Court Judge Gail Grover.

She said it’s important to have students in the classroom and out of trouble.

“One of the things that’s really important to me is to interrupt or dismantle the school to prison pipeline. And when our students are not in school, there’s more likelihood that they become involved in things that lead them to delinquency,” Grover explained.

Grover has worked intimately with the EBR School System creating improvement plans and mentorships to help fight the war against truancy, or excessive unexcused absences. 

“We get a chance to all be heard and to work on the issue, and it has been so wonderful getting kids reconnected with school,” she said.

EBR Schools Child Welfare and Attendance (CWA) Director Tirzah Smith said the numbers are still trending high across the state since the pandemic.

“Nationwide, we see that attendance has dropped significantly on the heels of the pandemic. We have seen that here in EBR Parish as well,” stated Smith.

Smith said that sometimes there’s a pile of issues and underlying problems students are going through, and absenteeism is just the tip of the iceberg.

“You’re looking at mental health issues. You’re looking at chronic health issues and lingering issues from COVID-19. You’re looking at grief issues…” she added.

Members of the truancy team, like EBR Schools CWA Supervisor Shauna Johnson, try to work with families to knock out some barriers that cause absences.

“We do home visits, phone calls, trying to make sure that we get the students back in school,” said Johnson.

Families are being sent to Juvenile Court as a last resort for excessive cases.

“We do try to be proactive to prevent them from getting to those numbers,” said Johnson.

They have worked in partnership with families to address students’ gaps, so students could instead focus on the learning.

“Once we find that, that’s what makes success happen,” said Smith.

Smith said it takes a village to keep children in school.

To find out more about truancy and access CWA resources and information, click here.