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NYC Public Schools See Alarming Jump in Chronic Student Absenteeism

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By:  Hadassa Kalatizadeh

The rate of chronic absenteeism in New York City Public school students has jumped to alarming 40 percent.

As reported by the NY Post, some 375,000 students in the city have been absent regularly and are falling behind.  “It seems shocking the number is so high, but it could be even higher because they’re not always marking kids absent,” said education watchdog Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.

The problem is not only in New York, but nationwide.  Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, or at least 18 days, excused or unexcused. Child advocates warn that the absences often result in low academic achievement, dropping out, delinquency and substance abuse.  NYC’s 40 percent is up from 26 percent in 2018-19, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Principals cite probable causes including increases in anxiety and depression, fear of bullying, and less after-school activities and sports to look forward to due to pandemic restrictions.  They also say the Department of Education’s policy to drop attendance requirements for students to pass, leaves kids off the hook to play hookie. “They know everyone’s going to get promoted,” a principal said. “There’s no fear of not getting promoted, so they don’t have to come in if they don’t want to.’”  In addition to the excessive absenteeism, there has also been a drop in enrollment.

“Education leaders should see dropping attendance and, even more alarmingly, enrollment, for what they really mean – a student population still reeling from the physical, social and emotional trauma of a pandemic, and an overall breakdown of trust in public institutions,” said Joanna Smith-Griffin, CEO and Founder of AllHere.

Schools Chancellor David Banks said he is prioritizing the problem. “It will be 40 percent if no actions are taken. We are taking actions,” said a spokesman.

“The chancellor’s office is focusing on reducing chronic absenteeism,” Terrence Paulin, a liaison in the Brooklyn HS superintendent’s office, said in a recent memo to principals, which was leaked on Twitter.  “The Central goal is to reduce the current citywide CA [chronic absenteeism] rate of 40% to 30% by June,” the memo says.

DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said they will work to bring down the rate. “Twenty eight percent of our students will be chronically absent at the end of this year,” he projected.  “We are laser focused on ensuring every student attends school every day. This includes proactively identifying students who are at risk and taking steps to prevent chronic absenteeism,” Styer added.

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