Letters to the editor

To the New York Times, Oct. 21, 2008

To the editor:

Your story about the absenteeism crisis in New York City public schools highlights the need for the city Department of Education to hire more attendance teachers as well as more guidance counselors and social workers (“Report Cites Chronic Absenteeism in City Schools,” Oct. 21).

There are currently 396 attendance teachers responsible for monitoring the attendance of 1.1 million students in 1,500 schools, and many are spread extremely thin being responsible for numerous schools across several boroughs. Making matters worse, 13 of them who could be doing their jobs are among more than 200 attendance teachers, guidance counselors and school social workers assigned to an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool of educators who lost their permanent positions because of schools closings and now fill day-to-day vacancies for teachers out for health reasons or maternity leave. Given the need outlined in the New School report, those ATR educators should have permanent assignments. Also, hiring more attendance teachers, counselors and socials workers would help address issues that drive so many students to skip school and eventually drop out.

The report also addresses a matter I raised last spring when I called for the expansion of community schools where students and their families could have access to a host of social services provided by various city and state agencies all under one roof. As one principal you quoted noted, students would not have to miss school to visit a doctor if they could see a doctor or nurse at school. It also underscores the need to keep the safety net for poor and vulnerable families from fraying in these tough economic times.

Randi Weingarten, President
United Federation of Teachers

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