How Often Can Your Child Be Absent from School


How Often Can Your Child Be Absent from School

How Often Can Your Child Be Absent from School

SoalSMA - How Often Can Your Child Be Absent from School - As schools focus on how to help students recover from the educational losses associated with the pandemic, experts say regular monitoring of students is critical.  But absenteeism is a bigger problem than most people think. 

Chronic absenteeism—generally defined as missing 10% or more of the school year—is associated with a variety of negative academic and social-emotional outcomes.  Attendance Works, a nonprofit organization focused on improving school attendance, estimated that more than 8 million students across the country were chronically absent before the pandemic, and those numbers have doubled since then. 

However, illnesses still occur, and personal commitments — from travel to dentist appointments — sometimes require students to miss school.  These hours can add up quickly.  "Parents see how much time their kids miss," said Tyree Pollard, director of attendance for Columbus City Schools in Ohio.  By talking to schools, parents and caregivers can help their children stay on top of work and other expectations when they have to be absent.

Why is school attendance important?

There is a "direct relationship" between school attendance and academics, and missing even one day is associated with lower test scores, said Michael Gottfried, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.  "Parents don't know how dangerous absenteeism is to test results," he said. 

Pollard says most student absences in Columbus are unexcused, meaning the school doesn't get information about the reason for the absence.  But the district said absences "may be a sign that a student is losing interest in school, struggling with schoolwork, dealing with peer conflicts, or experiencing other serious problems."

And while some studies indicate that these unexcused absences have a significant impact on achievement, experts say all absences — even excused ones — are still important. 

That doesn't mean students should be sent to school when they're not feeling well, but that children should be sent back as soon as they've recovered, Gottfried said.  Because when students are out of school, they miss more than academics.  A 2021 study by Gottfried and researcher Arya Ansari found that K to 5 children who were absent more frequently reported school-related stress, a reduced sense of belonging and less motivation than their peers.  Gottfried says students who miss more often may feel different from their classmates, and are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems than those who attend daily.

Other studies have found a correlation between high school absenteeism and students who engage in risky behavior, justice system involvement, and dropping out of school. 

Why do children miss school?

Gottfried said most school absences are due to student illnesses and appointments, religious services, funerals and other family emergencies, and the transportation and logistics of getting to school.  Students who experience bullying, have learning disabilities, or experience economic hardship often have increased absenteeism rates. 

And schools are still feeling the impact of Covid-19 on attendance.  While quarantine restrictions have been lifted, a positive test can keep a child out of school for five days.  (Influenza and RSV spikes this winter are also causing more absenteeism.) Also, bus transportation has been a particularly challenging issue, Pollard says, due to the pandemic-related shortage of drivers.

Monica Romero, a counselor at Arizona's Lavigne Elementary School, says transportation scheduling challenges cause kids to come in late or leave early — and that takes hours.  For example, a student in her district lived in a group home, and the van would pick up the child before the end of the regular school day.  The staff spoke with the group home on behalf of the child about adjusting the transportation schedule.

The most concerning absence was due to Gottfried's expulsion from school.  "You see isolation, you see social isolation, you see a lack of interest in school," he says, explaining that these behaviors put students at risk of truancy.

School building closures during Covid-19 have exacerbated this disparity for many students, and attendance issues remain, Pollard said.  "I think we overestimated it. We thought going back to school five days a week would fix everything. Instead, going back to the classroom was a huge adjustment, and the social-emotional toll was greater than expected. We had to rebuild our strength, from students to teachers," he said.

How much school children can miss.

In most districts, it takes 17 to 18 days to reach chronic absenteeism, but schools are more concerned if they know a child is out more often than that.  Experts say the first red flag is missing several days in a row.  "I'd say the third or fourth day is where we're concerned," Romero said. 

As a member of her school's behavioral intervention team, Romero is tasked with supporting student attendance.  "We still want to meet them," the student said a few days later when the reason for the approach was revealed.

Families should be aware of scattered absences: just two days of absence per month can add up to chronic absenteeism by the end of the school year.  In Ohio, Pollard said missing 42 hours (six to seven days) in a month would prompt a family conference attendance plan as state law. 

Often arriving late or leaving early can also cause stress, says Romero.  Her school offers incentives for students to come to class on time, recognizing the academic challenges associated with missed hours.  These include special coins that can be used in the school store for supplies and sports equipment, or to buy lunch with your favorite teacher.

What to do when your child is away

Experts say that if your child is absent from school, the most important thing is to notify the school.  It's a situation where Romero says there isn't a lot of information, and he's advising parents to "communicate too much."

Many of the online learning tools implemented during Covid-19 are still available, and if students need to miss more than a day or two — and are healthy enough to complete schoolwork — experts recommend asking about these resources.  Romero recommends asking for printable worksheets, or online educational websites or books. 

In Lavigne, all classes use Google Classroom for assignments, so students can complete work remotely.  And Romero encourages parents not to be shy about asking for help.  School staff happily collect - and even deliver - supplies.

When absences are planned in advance, such as travel, Pollard recommends explaining the situation to the school and asking for work that can be completed remotely.  "If you're going to miss school, at least you can access one of these different learning platforms ... and get something out of class that day," he says.

Other ways to support school attendance

Set a routine. Gottfried says taking the bus in the morning is tied to a regular bedtime.  Daily exercise can help reduce the stress and anxiety of going to school.

Keep contact information updated. Pollard calls an online parent information system "our first line of defense" when students are absent, and up-to-date email addresses and phone numbers are critical for schools.  In many districts, families can use the portal to check their student's attendance in real time. 

Ask for help. Schools are committed to supporting student attendance, and professionals encourage them to seek help, noting that schools are moving away from punishing absences.  "We don't like to be penalized for missing them," Romero said.  And Gottfried says solving problems has to come from a place of problem solving.  "Parents should not feel blamed." 

Celebrate success. Many schools offer incentives for regular and punctual attendance, such as coins used in Laveen.  In Columbus, the district is partnering with the Columbus Crew/Cleveland Browns Foundation to reward students for attending school for the "Stay in the Game" attendance initiative.  Using these programs helps children feel proud of their efforts.

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