Pandemic "ditching" in schools

Superintendent says parents may not realize their kids are not showing up for some remote classes
Posted at 11:07 PM, Nov 16, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. — It’s been called a hidden education crisis.

Chronic absenteeism in schools.

It’s a proven early warning sign of academic risk and school dropout. And one local superintendent tells us the pandemic has added a new twist that’s making it even more difficult to track and tackle.

Absenteeism is not a new problem. It’s complex.

A 2015/16 U.S. Department of Education report reveals 16 percent of the student population, or about 1 in 6 students, miss 15 days or more of school.

That’s considered chronic and students are at serious risk of falling behind.

“It's something we've collectively have been working on for, you know decades, more recently though the pandemic,” said Sunnyside Superintendent Steve Holmes.

He explains that some students behavior has changed during remote learning. Students are dropping off the radar a bit. In other words, they don’t show up for a few classes.

“We're now chasing students who access first period, but then won't be on for second and third period and then they will log in fourth and fifth now,” he said.

That’s called sporadic absences.

Holmes recently reported the rise in partial day absenteeism to the Governing Board explaining the upward trend and concern, especially among middle and high schoolers.

Grades 7, 10 and 11 have more than 100 students chronically absent.

Holmes said because these are not full day absences, it’s harder for schools to verify.

The age-old excuse "My dog ate my homework" has now been replaced with "I couldn’t log on".

“If you're calling me and I'm a Savvy 7th grader and I can say, Miss, my computer wasn't working at second period. My internet went out or you know, and it's so then, how do you have that conversation. Do you take that student at face value or what?” said Holmes.

Sporadic absences are harder to verify because tech failures happen, which makes it harder for staff to track and tackle.

Normally, schools contact parents when students don’t show up for an entire day, but Holmes said, he’s finding a good portion are actually at home on their computers and parents just don’t know their kids didn’t log into their classes.

“So you've got all these complexities of conversation with parents when they're saying no my kid was on the computer,” said Holmes, “They've been on there. I've seen them.”

So now teachers have to pivot to come up with new and creative ways to deal with pandemic ditching.

The superintendent said, “I think we have to think differently and being creative with our with our teachers and collaboration with our teachers to figure this out.”

The district is aggressively working this out because at the high school level there’s a concerning uptick in “F Reports” — students failing courses right now.

The U-S Department of Education reports that Hispanic students are 17 percent more likely to be chronically absent than their white peers.