Matthews Bills Would Tackle Issue of Students Dropping Out of School

DOVER – The only active public school teacher in the Delaware General Assembly introduced legislation Thursday aimed at reducing and preventing students from dropping out.

Rep. Sean Matthews filed a pair of bills designed to help schools identify students at risk of dropping out earlier and help connect students with available services.

House Bill 23 would require that students seeking to drop out of school participate in an “exit interview” with a school-based team in which alternatives to dropping out and/or additional supports, services and planning are discussed. During that interview, school officials would supply information regarding the likelihood of diminished earning potential and the increased likelihood of unemployment associated with dropping out.

House Bill 24 would require that schools schedule conferences with parents or guardians after five unexcused absences to perform an informal needs assessment with the family to determine what services in the school or community might help improve the student’s attendance. Under current law, parents or guardians aren’t notified until after 10 unexcused absences.

“Research and experience has shown that a student dropping out of high school is often a gradual process of disengagement between the student and school community. For the most part, students don’t just drop out because they reach 16 years of age and are allowed to drop out,” Rep. Matthews said.

“Reaching out and engaging these students and their parents before a situation becomes serious are critical to reducing and preventing students from dropping out in the first place. Waiting until 10 unexcused absences have accumulated isn’t getting in front of a potential problem. We must take positive steps to engage students and educate them on the significance of dropping out and the challenges it creates for them later in life.

According to the Delaware Department of Education, 2.2 percent of the nearly 40,000 students enrolled in grades 9-12 dropped out during the 2014-15 school year. This is near the record low of 2.1 percent for the 2013-14 school year. That is down from a high of 8.1 percent of high school students during the 1981-82 year and 6 percent during the 2003-04 school year.

The DOE report noted that student cited academic, personal and economic reasons for dropping out. Rep. Matthews said that an exit interview in which students are informed of the risks of leaving school, and of support services, interventions or programs that might assist the student in remaining enrolled, might reduce dropout rates even further.

HB 23 and 24 have been assigned to the House Education Committee. The General Assembly returns to session on January 10.