chronic absenteeism

Dealing With Chronic Absenteeism in K12 Schools During the 2020/2021 School Year

Abby dropped out of school when she was 16. She hadn’t attended school regularly for the previous two years. Her priorities had shifted from attending marching band practice and studying for chemistry to caring for her sister as her mom looked for her next prescription drug high.

Abby’s absenteeism did not result from a lack of desire to learn. She was trying to care for her and her sisters’ basic needs. As a result, she missed school.

Abby isn’t alone.

A 2018 report reveals that over 8 million students miss a month’s worth of school days each year.

Chronic absenteeism in schools will continue to be a problem with the fluctuating nature of in-person and online schools this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teachers and administrators can still combat it, though. Keep reading to learn strategies on how to deal with chronic absenteeism in the 2020/21 school year.

What Qualifies as Chronic Absenteeism?

Experts define chronic absenteeism in school as when a student misses 15 or more days in a school year. This is three weeks of school or a third of a quarter.

Each time a student misses school, they’re missing critical instruction. Upon returning, the student has to work even harder to try to catch up with what they’ve missed while also learning new material.

Students miss out on the academic as well as the social and emotional aspects of learning. They’re not engaging with their peers, and they’re not building the critical social skills they need to survive in the world outside of an educational setting.

If the closures of schools have taught us anything during the pandemic, it’s that schools are an essential part of a student’s entire education. Teachers do more than teach reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Causes of Chronic Absenteeism in Schools

Students miss school for as many reasons as the challenges they each face. You do not have to be in education long to discover that students suffer. Here are a few reasons for absenteeism specifically in areas of poverty and disadvantaged communities.

Poor Health

Students born into poverty suffer from health problems from the start, such as asthma, obesity and overweight, and mental health problems. These kids do not have the resources necessary from the start to keep them healthy, and as a result, they end up missing school.

These same kids that struggle with poor health as a reason for absenteeism will see the problems compounded with the pandemic. They’re at risk for health complications, and they will miss more school without proper health care.

Limited Transportation

A recent report revealed that 8 percent of American households do not have access to a working vehicle.

Sometimes kids just do not have a way to get to school.

In the midst of the pandemic, kids may not feel safe with the transportation schools provide. They can get themselves to the bus stop, but are their busses safe? They do not have the option of having a parent give them a ride to school because their parents do not have a car.

Lack of Safety

In 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that educational staff and teachers reported child abuse more than any other reporter. In fact, teachers and educational staff filed one-fifth of the reports of child abuse.

Children living in situations of abuse or neglect are simply trying to survive. School attendance is not a priority for these kids. When you do not know where your next meal comes from, getting to school takes low priority.

Gather Chronic Absenteeism Data

Data matters in the world of school absenteeism. We’re not talking about an employee failing to show up for work after a weekend bender. These are kids who need an education and lose out when they’re not in the classroom.

Statistics show us that students who miss at least 15 school days are, logically, most at risk for falling behind in school.

Their absenteeism results from one of three categories:

  • Barrier: These reasons refer to a physical inability to attend school. No transportation and chronic health problems qualify.
  • Aversion: When a student will not go to school but is physically able, they are averting. Disinterest in lessons, fear of bullies, or a general fear of mistreatment because of race, disability, culture, and physical appearance all qualify.
  • Myths: These are the “do not go” reasons for absenteeism. The culture of the community may discourage students from going to school.

When you begin to gather and track data, you begin to see the reasons for absenteeism in your school. Then you can begin to combat it more purposefully and effectively.

Data As a Tool

So start with gathering data. You could start with a pencil and paper, but more sophisticated methods of data collection exist, and they will help you organize your information more clearly.

Plus, you can share your data with the other administrative parties in your school in an organized fashion.

The 2020 school year looks to be the year educators will be online more than ever. So more sophisticated methods of data collection are essential. You will need a way to keep track of your kids.

Parents often underestimate how much school their child is missing. A day here or there does not make much of a difference. However, a day here or there every month adds up quickly. When a student misses two days a month or one day every other week, they’re chronically absent and at risk for falling behind.

Data collection helps the administration put together a report that allows parents to see how much absenteeism is affecting their child’s learning.

Chronic Absenteeism Solutions in 2020

Absenteeism may be an even bigger problem in the midst of a pandemic. Schools shut down in February and March 2020, and many did not reopen. Students fell off the radar, not checking in with their teachers.

As a result, some students have had no education for six months. Not coming to school feels like the norm now, and thus absenteeism will be an even bigger problem to fight this school year. Here are a few ways you can handle it.


You must track and report absenteeism to supply critical data. Then you can use this data to inform parents and communities about absenteeism. Tracking absenteeism and gathering data is foundational to combatting the problem.


Create a committee specifically focused on battling absenteeism. Then begin with contacting kids who are chronically absent. Make phone calls.

Emails are just as easy to avoid as they are to send. Phone calls are a bit more challenging, however. Plus, when a parent or student hears a teacher’s voice on the other end of the line, they tend to listen more.

You can make your plea and share the data with the family when you make a phone call. Plus, a phone call shows another level of care compared to a quickly typed email.

Engagement: The Critical Piece of the Puzzle

A student’s physical presence matters, but their mental, social, and emotional engagement matters more.

Logically, students who are more engaged want to attend class. They’re more likely to move heaven and earth to attend school if they know something amazing or cool is going to happen in class that day. They don’t want to miss it.

Technology is certainly working to make engagement easier for teachers. You can use cool new tech like VR and AR, for example.

Virtual and augmented reality makes learning fun and engaging. Students no longer have to worry about getting queasy with a scalpal in hand over a frog cadaver. They can dissect their frog virtually.

Technology also allows teachers to take students to places they’d never be able to go to on their own.

Same Concepts, New Mediums

Engagement is a critical factor in 2020, considering we have more barriers to learning than ever. In March 2020, students left school one day with the belief they would be coming back in a week or two, as schools closed doors for the pandemic.

Most schools never re-opened.

This type of ambiguity affects students. It leaves them with the belief that when they walk through the doors in the fall, the doors may not stay open. They could easily end up back at home again.

How do you engage a student when both they and you don’t know if the school will be in person or online?

Teachers need to engage students from the first day of class with their care, concern, and compassion. When they establish rapport from the start, students will want to come back to their room.

As the school year progresses, if teachers end up going online once again, they need to continue to maintain that rapport with students. Online videos such as those provided by any one of the growing ed-tech companies will help students see their teachers’ faces.

Touchpoints matter as well. Teachers need to make contact with students regularly if everyone is sent home once again. This may require phone conversations with some parents and students if the student does not show up at online meetings.

Engagement at All Levels

Teachers will engage their students most when they’re transparent with them, no matter the level. So elementary, middle school, and high school teachers alike should not be afraid to engage with their students by simply talking to them. When students realize their teachers are people, they’re more willing to engage with them, and absenteeism will slow down.

Chronic absenteeism in high school may seem like a completely different animal because kids are on their own in a sense. Parents feel helpless when they attempt to coerce their adults-in-the-making to log into class for a virtual education or as they attempt to rouse them out of bed to drive themselves to school.

But high school teachers can use some of the same techniques as elementary and middle school teachers to engage students.

Sometimes engaging high schoolers means something as simple as putting a different cat meme on your online platform daily. Students log in to see which meme you’ve found today.

Create A Safe Place

If safety is a major barrier to student attendance, schools can combat absenteeism by creating a safe place.

From the start, schools need to make parents and the community aware that absenteeism is a problem they’re working on combatting. The data you gather will prove why school attendance matters. This could discourage a parent who gives in to the “my tummy hurts” excuse on a regular basis.

Students who feel safe both emotionally and physically will engage in school. They will want to come, and they will find themselves using the bellyache excuse less and less.

You can create a calendar with fun, upcoming activities, and events to lure students to school. You could also create a goal-based incentive for students. Creating a common goal will help students connect with each other and create a community that they want to be a part of every day.

Students will learn to love school when you make school a loveable place.

Education Matters

We all have something to learn. Look for local and online workshops and classes to help you learn about how to address chronic absenteeism. Perhaps the absenteeism isn’t the problem, but the result of the real issue at hand.

Don’t Fight Alone

Chronic absenteeism in schools was a problem before the pandemic. The fluctuating situation will most likely make it even more of an issue.

Our software can help you track the essential data you need to combat chronic absenteeism. We also offer a free monthly behavior management series that will help you understand your students’ needs even more.

Contact us to learn more about our solutions and to schedule a 30-minute online demonstration of our software.

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