Persistent absenteeism in Mass. has doubled since earlier than the pandemic


Tens of millions of youngsters are lacking weeks of college as attendance tanks throughout the US.

Rousmery Negrón stands with her son outside at home in Springfield, Mass.
Rousmery Negrón stands along with her son at residence in Springfield, Mass., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. AP Picture/Jessica Hill

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — When in-person faculty resumed after pandemic closures, Rousmery Negrón and her 11-year-old son each observed a change: Faculty appeared much less welcoming.

Mother and father had been now not allowed within the constructing with out appointments, she mentioned, and punishments had been extra extreme. Everybody appeared much less tolerant, extra offended. Negrón’s son informed her he overheard a trainer mocking his studying disabilities, calling him an unsightly identify.

Her son didn’t need to go to highschool anymore. And he or she didn’t really feel he was secure there.

He would find yourself lacking greater than 5 months of sixth grade.

Rousmery Negrón stands with her son.
Rousmery Negrón stands along with her son at residence in Springfield, Mass., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. – AP Picture/Jessica Hill

Throughout the nation, college students have been absent at document charges since faculties reopened in the course of the pandemic. Greater than 1 / 4 of scholars missed no less than 10% of the 2021-22 faculty yr, making them chronically absent, in accordance with the newest knowledge accessible. Earlier than the pandemic, solely 15% of scholars missed that a lot faculty.

All informed, an estimated 6.5 million further college students turned chronically absent, in accordance with the information, which was compiled by Stanford College training professor Thomas Dee in partnership with The Related Press. Taken collectively, the information from 40 states and Washington, D.C., gives probably the most complete accounting of absenteeism nationwide. Absences had been extra prevalent amongst Latino, Black and low-income college students, in accordance with Dee’s evaluation.

The absences come on high of time college students missed throughout faculty closures and pandemic disruptions. They value essential classroom time as faculties work to recuperate from large studying setbacks.

Absent college students miss out not solely on instruction but additionally on all the opposite issues faculties present — meals, counseling, socialization. In the long run, college students who’re chronically absent — lacking 18 or extra days a yr, in most locations — are at increased threat of not studying to learn and finally dropping out.

“The long-term penalties of disengaging from faculty are devastating. And the pandemic has completely made issues worse and for extra college students,” mentioned Hedy Chang, govt director of Attendance Works, a nonprofit addressing continual absenteeism.

In seven states together with Massachusetts, the speed of chronically absent youngsters doubled for the 2021-22 faculty yr, from 2018-19, earlier than the pandemic. Absences worsened in each state with accessible knowledge — notably, the evaluation discovered development in continual absenteeism didn’t correlate strongly with state COVID charges.

Youngsters are staying residence for myriad causes — funds, housing instability, sickness, transportation points, faculty staffing shortages, nervousness, melancholy, bullying and usually feeling unwelcome at college.

And the results of on-line studying linger: Faculty relationships have frayed, and after months at residence, many mother and father and college students don’t see the purpose of standard attendance.

“For nearly two years, we informed households that faculty can look completely different and that schoolwork may very well be achieved in occasions exterior of the normal 8-to-3 day. Households received used to that,” mentioned Elmer Roldan, of Communities in Colleges of Los Angeles, which helps faculties observe up with absent college students.

When lecture rooms closed in March 2020, Negrón in some methods felt relieved her two sons had been residence in Springfield. Because the 2012 capturing at Sandy Hook Elementary Faculty in Connecticut, Negrón, who grew up in Puerto Rico, had develop into satisfied mainland American faculties had been harmful.

A yr after in-person instruction resumed, she mentioned, workers positioned her son in a category for college students with disabilities, citing hyperactive and distracted conduct. He felt unwelcome and unsafe. Now, it appeared to Negrón, there was hazard inside faculty, too.

“He must be taught,” mentioned Negrón, a single mother who works as a cook dinner at one other faculty. “He’s very clever. However I’m not going to waste my time, my cash on uniforms, for him to go to a college the place he’s simply going to fail.”

For individuals who’ve lengthy studied continual absenteeism, the post-COVID period feels completely different. A few of the issues that stop college students from getting to highschool are constant — sickness, financial misery — however “one thing has modified,” mentioned Todd Langager, who helps San Diego County faculties handle absenteeism. He sees college students who already felt unseen, or with out a caring grownup at college, really feel additional disconnected.

Alaska led in absenteeism, with 48.6% of scholars lacking vital quantities of college. Alaska Native college students’ price was increased, 56.5%.

These college students face poverty and an absence of psychological well being providers, in addition to a faculty calendar that isn’t aligned to conventional searching and fishing actions, mentioned Heather Powell, a trainer and Alaska Native. Many college students are raised by grandparents who bear in mind the federal government forcing Native kids into boarding faculties.

“Our households aren’t valuing training as a result of it isn’t one thing that’s ever valued us,” Powell mentioned.

In New York, Marisa Kosek mentioned son James misplaced the relationships fostered at his faculty — and with them, his need to attend class altogether. James, 12, has autism and struggled first with on-line studying after which with a hybrid mannequin. Throughout absences, he’d see his academics within the neighborhood. They inspired him to return, and he did.

However when he moved to center faculty in one other neighborhood, he didn’t know anybody. He misplaced curiosity and missed greater than 100 days of sixth grade. The subsequent yr, his mother pushed for him to repeat the grade — and he missed all however 5 days.

His mom, a highschool trainer, enlisted assist: relations, therapists, New York’s disaster unit. However James simply needed to remain residence. He’s anxious as a result of he is aware of he’s behind, and he’s misplaced his stamina.

“Being round folks all day at school and making an attempt to behave ‘regular’ is tiring,” mentioned Kosek. She’s extra hopeful now that James has been accepted to a non-public residential faculty that focuses on college students with autism.

Juan Banilla, right, stands in front of his mother, Carmen Banilla.
Juan Banilla, proper, stands in entrance of his mom, Carmen Banilla close to their residence Friday, July 28, 2023, in San Diego. – AP Picture/Gregory Bull

Some college students had continual absences due to medical and staffing points. Juan Ballina, 17, has epilepsy; a skilled workers member should be close by to manage treatment in case of a seizure. However post-COVID-19, many faculty nurses retired or sought higher pay in hospitals, exacerbating a nationwide scarcity.

Final yr, Juan’s nurse was on medical depart. His faculty couldn’t discover a substitute. He missed greater than 90 days at his Chula Vista, California, highschool.

“I used to be lonely,” Ballina mentioned. “I missed my pals.”

Final month, faculty began once more. Up to now, Juan’s been there, together with his nurse. However his mother, Carmen Ballina, mentioned the results of his absence persist: “He used to learn much more. I don’t suppose he’s motivated anymore.”

One other lasting impact from the pandemic: Educators and specialists say some mother and father and college students have been conditioned to remain residence on the slightest signal of illness.

Renee Slater’s daughter hardly ever missed faculty earlier than the pandemic. However final faculty yr, the straight-A center schooler insisted on staying residence 20 days, saying she simply didn’t really feel nicely.

“As they become old, you’ll be able to’t bodily choose them up into the automobile — you’ll be able to solely take away privileges, and that doesn’t all the time work,” mentioned Slater, who teaches within the rural California district her daughter attends. “She doesn’t dislike faculty, it’s only a change in mindset.”

An empty elementary school classroom.
An empty elementary faculty classroom is seen on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 within the Bronx borough of New York. – AP Picture/Brittainy Newman, File

Most states have but to launch attendance knowledge from 2022-23, the newest faculty yr. Primarily based on the few which have shared figures, it appears the chronic-absence pattern could have lengthy legs. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, continual absenteeism remained double its pre-pandemic price.

In Negrón’s hometown of Springfield, 39% of scholars had been chronically absent final faculty yr, an enchancment from 50% the yr earlier than. Charges are increased for college students with disabilities.

Whereas Negrón’s son was out of college, she mentioned, she tried to remain on high of his studying. She picked up a weekly folder of worksheets and homework; he couldn’t end as a result of he didn’t know the fabric.

“He was struggling a lot, and the state of affairs was placing him in a down temper,” Negrón mentioned.

Final yr, she filed a grievance asking officers to provide her son compensatory providers and pay for him to attend a non-public particular training faculty. The decide sided with the district.

Now, she’s eyeing the brand new yr with dread. Her son doesn’t need to return. Negrón mentioned she’ll contemplate it provided that the district grants her request for him to review in a mainstream classroom with a private aide. The district informed AP it will probably’t touch upon particular person scholar circumstances on account of privateness issues.

Negrón needs she might homeschool her sons, however she has to work and fears they’d endure from isolation.

“If I had an alternative choice, I wouldn’t ship them to highschool,” she mentioned.

AP training author Sharon Lurye contributed from New Orleans; AP reporter Becky Bohrer contributed from Juneau. This story was reported and revealed in partnership with EdSource, a nonprofit newsroom that covers training in California. EdSource reporter Betty Márquez Rosales contributed reporting from Bakersfield.