The Merriam Webster dictionary gives part of the ditch definition as a digging a hole on the side of a road. The other meaning of ditch is to get away from something or someone. “Ditching” school means leaving a class or not attending school when parents for legitimate reasons do not authorize this behavior. The legal word for “ditching” is truancy.
CNN reports that approximately seven million or 15% of students (K-12th grade) skip more than 18 days of school each school year. These students are much more likely to drop out (20%) and not go on to get a college degree (25%). In addition, often the first sign of students having serious trouble is ditching school.
School ditching comes from different reasons, some of which are:
- Boredom with school
- To get away from school to go off with friends
- Students afraid to go to school because of bullying
Boredom with school is like boredom with working at a job. We all have it, at different times. We all want to escape boredom. Nevertheless, in the end we realize that studying is like working. We may not like it all the time, but we have to get over that feeling and participate anyway. In terms of school attendance, the complete ditch meaning includes cutting classes.
According to a report by Catalyst Chicago, cutting classes is more common than full-day absences. Many schools do not have enough security staff to monitor the behavior of students cutting class. Skipping out (cutting) a single class is included in the ditch meaning.
When a student decides to ditch school, they may get away with it. A small amount of ditching may go unnoticed. Those who ditched without consequences, typically do more school ditching. In some high schools, there is a sanctioned Senior Ditch Day, permitted as part of tradition.
For unauthorized ditching, at some point the one ditch day turns into many. Naturally, there are consequences for this behavior, under a general school ditching definition, that eventually catch up with a student, affect the parents, and are detrimental to the school system as a whole.
Here are a few examples:
- Ditching is Illegal – In places where there are truancy laws, when a student fails to show up at school they have broken the law. Students who ditch school may end up facing punishment. In some areas, the parents are responsible as well. For example, one mother in California faced criminal charges because of the truancy of her son. He failed to show up at school about ten percent of the time. According to NBC Los Angeles, the mother faced arrest because of this.
- Student and Parents Go to Jail – Ask the Judge reports on a case from Colorado where a 15-year-old girl student who missed school forty-three days and was late nineteen times, was put into detention for a month. Her parents had to pay a fine of $300 and spent ten days in jail.
- Mother Attends School with Daughter – According to an answer given on the Askville blog, one working mother decided to go to the extreme of taking a week off work to attend school with her daughter. The mother went to her daughter’s school with the permission of school authorities. The mother sat next to her daughter in every class and even at lunch. The constant presence of the mother horrified and embarrassed the daughter, especially because the daughter’s friends seem to like her mother. They could see that the mother really cared about her daughter. After one week, the mother told her daughter she was going back to work, but she planned to make surprise visits to school. The ditching was no longer a problem after this.
- School District Loses $100 Million in Funding due to Chronic Absenteeism – A report by KPBS and the Watchdog Institute found that San Diego school district lost about $100 million per year in funding due to the problem of school ditching. In the San Diego School District, the amount of funding each school receives every year is determined by the number of days of attendance of all students. Less attendance in total means less money for the school district.
- Texas is Tough – According to the Attorney General of Texas, a student cannot miss more than 3 school days in a month, ten school days in six months, and missing a partial day counts the same as missing a full day. Parents face fines of up to $500 per day, for each unauthorized day a child misses school. The student may face detention and have either their learner’s permit or driver’s license suspended for a year. The penalties in Texas are severe. All states in America have truancy laws, so everyone under the age of 18 must attend school.
What about Bullying?
One study reported by The Guardian, determined about one-third of all truancy comes from students being bullied at school. The students subjected to bullying behavior at school preferred to ditch school and accept the consequences of this action, when compared to facing a bully at school.
Parents are cautioned to consider this, when they discover a truancy problem with their child. It may simply be a matter of self-defense, as opposed to the child engaging in intentional bad behavior.
A Boston study found a direct correlation between bullying and truancy. They asked teenagers and children to explain whether they had experienced bullying, by choosing between, 1) Never bullied; 2) Sometimes bullied, and; 3) Always bullied. Those who took of more than five “sick” days, in a single school year, were much more likely to have been sometimes bullied (73%) or constantly bullied (82%).
Those who had severe truancy problems, missing ten or more days in a school year were only students who reported constant bullying at school. The fact that bullying contributes to truancy is well established.
A study by the U.S. Justice Department, determined that bullying is not the only reason for truancy. Nevertheless, bullying is a significant contributing factor. The 2001 report called “Bullying in Schools: An Overview” noted that both parents and school administrators do not completely understand the life-long detrimental effects of bullying on targeted students and the impact on youth suicides.
This report recommends careful monitoring of school attendance with participation of both the parents and the school. It also recommends notification of absentees by school officials speaking directly with parents, identification of bullying as the potential reason for truancy, and allowing a bullied student to make up class work and tests under direct supervision of a teacher.
Ditching school is a complex issue, needing consideration for two major underlying causes. For those students not subjected to bullying, it is mostly about boredom. Surprisingly according to CNN, the activities they engage in while ditching are usually sleeping or hanging out with friends. This type of ditching reduces when parents and school officials are more active in applying controls.
When the motivation for ditching school comes from bullying, which appears to be in about one-third of the cases, the problem is more serious. Parents and school officials should interpret this behavior as a cry for help.