Attendance is a big problem at Yukon high schools, according to data from at least one school council and the Yukon Department of Education.  

There are 570 students enrolled at F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse and since September there have been close to 5,500 unexcused absences.

The school’s council also provided numbers of excused — or approved — absences, which total about 1,000 over the same time period.

The school council's numbers are confirmed by data from the last school year for the entire territory that show a typical Yukon high school student had on average more than a month's worth of unexcused absences.

"The average number of days missed for our rural students was 43," said Judy Arnold, director of Student Achievement and Systems Accountability for the Yukon Department of Education, noting that for a secondary student at an urban school, absences totaled an average of 24.

"We are concerned because that's an average."

The F.H. Collins school council says the situation is critical and needs to be addressed.

In a letter to Education Minister Scott Kent, the council outlined its concerns and suggested looking at offering post-secondary bursaries for good attendance.

Arnold said there's no simple solution, but conceded that something needs to be done.

"I think we're looking at anything that works to engage kids in school and I think you can motivate some kids with bursaries, but I think some kids need to find the path and the option that engages them," she said. "I know in one of the schools last year they re-engaged a student one course at a time."

First Nations students

Kim Rumley, First Nations program co-ordinator at F.H. Collins, said many of the absences can be pinned on the kids she works with.

"Is it fair to say that rural students and First Nations communities contribute to those numbers? Yep, that's fair and an honest statement."

Rumley said there are a lot of factors that contribute to those numbers that the general public may not understand. For example, she says First Nations students are often away from home to attend high school and have to return to their communities for days at a time to attend funerals or other significant events.

But Rumley also acknowledges a large number of her students are not engaged in the education process.              

"Back in my day in the late ‘80s when we went to school, if you missed x amount of days, you were gone. It was that simple. You were just gone. And that's not the philosophy anymore."

In 1988, Alberta established an attendance board, which intervenes whenever a student is regularly skipping school.

Kelvin Hussey, the board's chair, says when a child starts skipping school, everyone from caregivers to teachers are brought in to find out why the truant behaviour is happening.

"One of the nice advantages of the attendance board is you bring everybody together and you really dig into the problem. You really focus on what are the issues, what are the problems, with everybody on the same room focusing on how can we solve that problem."

Hussey said the Alberta Attendance Board has the authority to send a child back to school or direct an appropriate social agency to help deal with issues that lead to truant behaviour.                            

No such initiative exists in the Yukon and a truancy officer position remains vacant at the Department of Education.