School officials worry about low attendance numbers and tardiness

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - High school student Tanner Reese said he's seen an issue with absences. "Our absences, that's not really excusable. I mean we have way more than we should have," he said.

On top of hurricane-related issues, Bay District Schools is facing another challenge.

Denise Kelley, Assistant Superintendent of Bay District Schools, said, "Since the hurricane more students are absent and that can be, you know, tagged to we have more students that are homeless, we have more students that are mobile, we have more students that are working."

Billy May, Principal of Bay High School, said, "It's been a problem since way before the storm, but it just got to me the other day and I decided to do a little investigation and kind of look at some numbers."

May found Bay High students racked up more than 72,000 unexcused class absences this year--that's three times as many unexcused absences than excused absences.

But aside from the importance of punctuality, faculty want students to know the long-term effects of missing school.

High school student Jhykeith Halton said, "You know, in school, there's no other better way to be successful in life than to further your education so I think kids should stay in school for that reason."

"Kids may be more interested in being in attendance if the instruction was engaging so we have to do our job and make those kids want to be here by presenting material that is relevant and going to help them get to the next level in their life," said May.

Kelley says high school students can also work with mentors and graduation coaches to help keep them on track.

District officials say pursuing truancy court is possible for students ages six to sixteen, but is not always the best option and is often the last resort.