Post pandemic hangover: Chronic absenteeism in schools

COVID-19 seems to have reduced student attendance at schools. KOLO 8 News Now's Ed Pearce reports.
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:50 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -Like every other institution of American life, two years ago our schools suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory. Issues like social distancing, mask policies, remote learning, hybrid schedules, even replacing the needed nutrition of school lunches, each demanded solutions.

Looking back now, we can debate each of the many decisions our schools had to make to navigate these issues, but it turns out some impacts are lingering.

In the height of the pandemic, during the first year, the absentee rate in person or online in Washoe County, reached 39 percent. With students back in school, that number has dropped considerably, but it’s still higher here and elsewhere than it should be.

The reasons can vary from family to family.

Without the discipline of the classroom, some students had difficulty with remote learning, fell behind, and were discouraged. Coming back to school can be an uphill climb.

But others--older students-- went to work, got jobs, and became breadwinners as their families struggled.

“And I think they see the value of getting that paycheck more than coming to school and getting that diploma,” says Shauna Wooldridge, Attendance Intervention Specialist with the Carson City School District, “And I think that’s something we’re going to continue to struggle with.”

Having prematurely entered the adult world of work and responsibility, they are reluctant to go back to school and they lack the emotional maturity to imagine the long-term impact of that decision.

Whatever their reasons, coaxing them to return is a labor-intensive student-by-student effort, tracking them down, and addressing their needs and those of their families.

“It can be anything from helping with stable housing to helping with academics and providing tutoring,” says Rechelle Murillo, Director of Intervention at the Washoe County School District. “We’ve looked at the whole spectrum of how can we better support families so they can support their students.”

We’ve had a lot of conversations with kids about why they need to be working toward graduation. What that high school diploma can gain for them that they won’t be able to get without it,” says Wooldridge.

“We had a really long stretch of kids not being in school. And so, we need to continue to support them,” adds Murillo.

Both women expect this impact of the pandemic to linger for years to come.

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