Burke High School implements new attendance guidelines for homecoming dance

At least one Omaha high school is trying a new way to get students to show up to school.
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 4:20 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s a problem nationwide and in the Omaha metro area. Students are skipping school.

To help improve attendance, Burke High School is trying something new this fall: If students have too many unexcused absences, they can’t go to the homecoming dance in October.

Tammy Nelson’s son is a senior at Burke High.

“He’ll say to me, ‘Mom, can I stay home this afternoon?’ And I say, ‘absolutely not.’ And he’ll say, ‘Oh my god there’s so many kids who miss so much,” Nelson said.

Omaha Public Schools administrators agree.

“We do struggle with unexcused absences,” said Chief Officer of Student and Community Services Lisa Utterback.

According to the OPS school data book, 62% of Burke students were chronically absent or at risk during the 2020-2021 school year.

That year was an anomaly because it was the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Still, educators say the problem existed long before that and is continuing.

“I think that school districts across the country have struggled with chronic absenteeism for quite some time. I think the pandemic exasperated the issues we were seeing with absenteeism.”

It's a problem nationwide and right here in the Omaha-metro area. Students are skipping school a lot.

To help curb the problem, Burke High School is trying a new approach.

Students who have three or more unexcused absences will not be allowed to go to the homecoming dance on Oct. 8.

Unexcused absences include missing school without notice or a reason, no one can confirm why the student is gone, or the student missed school for a reason that is not excused.

Excused absences include illness, a death, a court appearance, or even a problem with transportation.

Nelson predicts that the new attendance guidelines will probably lead to low attendance at this year’s homecoming dance.

“I don’t know how many kids are going to actually be at this homecoming.”

Nelson supports the new guidelines anyway.

“OPS has to set a precedent. If you’re not at school, what are you doing? What are you out there doing? And it concerns me that it may be bad stuff.”

In 2018 OPS started a movement called Strive for 95, encouraging students to go to school 95% of the time, which is missing nine days or less per school year.

Attendance improved in 2019 but took a dive in 2020.