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Extreme heat is causing school disruptions, could affect student attendance

Alianna Williams used her finger to follow her reading sight words duing Allendale Columbia School’s summer LEAP program. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
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WXXI News
Alianna Williams used her finger to follow her reading sight words during Allendale Columbia School’s summer LEAP program.

Many schools in Monroe County have switched to half-days this week due to severe heat. But half-days and school interruptions can come with a consequence.

The Rochester City School district is one of several school districts holding half days for elementary students and middle schoolers.

In a recent school board meeting, attendance director Carly Jelsma reported that half days and school disruptions are linked to spikes in student absenteeism.

One such example was back in March, when schools closed due to a boil water advisory that was issued when a body was found in the Highland Park Reservoir.

"The next day, we did have very low attendance,” Jelsma said. “So you can see how even the matter of a day can dip quite a bit.”

Jelsma said dips in attendance show up on half-days too.

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"Half days are very, very difficult with student attendance,” she said. “I can say that the leadership team has put together a very strong plan, trying to get more students involved and participate (sic) on those half days.”

Those plans included added incentives to encourage students to come to school on those days.

School board member Isaiah Santiago said that tracks with his experience. Santiago is a recent graduate from School of the Arts.

“I know, for me, personally, the half school days that I knew there was nothing going on, I am not going. I'm staying in bed. But the ones that I knew that we had events and we had time to come together as students, I was there,” Santiago said. “And so it is important just to make sure that we're really engaging our students with things that they are interested in.”

The current shift to a half-day schedule due to extreme heat falls on the last week of school.

Deputy superintendent Ruth Turner said this week that end-of-year activities are reason enough for students to come to school.

“Whether it's moving up ceremony, whether it's Field Day, Carnival celebrations,” Turner said. “Typically, they enjoy being at school and present for all those activities. So we believe that's a great incentive to get them to attend this half day this week.”

A heat advisory remains in effect until late Thursday with the National Weather Service expecting the heat index to top 100 degrees.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.