Number of chronically absent students has doubled in North Carolina since the COVID-19 pandemic

Samantha Kummerer Image
BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Friday, August 11, 2023
Number of absent students has doubled in NC since the pandemic
EMBED <>More Videos

The number of North Carolina students who are missing a lot of school has doubled since the pandemic.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The number of North Carolina students who are missing a lot of school has doubled since the pandemic.

Nearly a third of North Carolina students were chronically absent during the 2021-22 school year. Before the pandemic, only 15% were chronically absent during the 2018-19 school year, according to data analyzed by the Associated Press (AP).

A child is considered chronically absent when they miss 10% or more days of school.

SEE ALSO | Thousands of NC students remain 'unaccounted for' after pandemic, state using money to locate them

A recent analysis released by the Associated Press and Stanford University found this is a nationwide trend with 6.5 million more children becoming chronically absent between the 2018 and 2021 school years.

The national analysis found absentees increased for every state in that time period and in seven states that rate doubled. The percentage of chronically absent students in North Carolina ranks 13th among states. Unfortunately, many school districts reported an even higher percentage of students missing excessive amounts of school.

Ultimately, this increase in students missing school means increased learning loss along with a lack of access to support and emotional and social growth.

"Social, emotional, being able to work with other humans, being able to just be in community is a really important thing when we're talking about kids being in school," said Turquoise Parker, a DPS Elementary teacher.

She said she's experienced an increase in absences from her own students.

Durham Public Schools had a higher percentage of students who were chronically absent than the state average. In the 2021-22 school year, 41% of DPS students were considered chronically absent.

"Those students are also experiencing other social challenges and sometimes school is the safest place either in the community or even in the students' circle of trust. So we try to make sure families and communities know that when a child is not in school, they are missing many of the social and emotional support and mental health supports that can be made available to families," said Dr. Laverne Mattocks-Perry, the lead of DPS Student Support Services.

Mattocks-Perry said worsening economic conditions, increased housing insecurity and mental health challenges have contributed to more students missing class.

"They're also missing an opportunity to build strong relationships with their peers. And most importantly, they're missing days of instruction. And our goal is to make sure students are prepared to have options after graduation," she said.

Parker also said she believes bus driver shortages and redistricting have impacted absences within DPS.

That percentage was even higher for Black and Hispanic students. About half of the students who are economically disadvantaged were chronically absent. English learners and students with disabilities also reported some of the highest rates of absenteeism.

"Some communities of students who have additional challenges tend to also have challenges with absenteeism," Mattocks-Perry said.

Mattocks-Perry said outreach to those absent students has become more challenging. She said reversing this trend comes down to parent engagement and building strong relationships with the community.

"We have a very in-depth process that begins, of course, with classroom teachers and other attendance teams at the school level. However, that school social worker oftentimes has access to resources as well as specific skills that can help in tracking down students and families who are a part of what we call chronic absenteeism," she explained.

Cumberland County Schools reported similar rates with 40% of students chronically absent last school year. Wake County Public Schools reported 23% of students as chronically absent during the 2021-22 school year.

The percentage of absences was higher for Latino, Black, low-income students, and students with disabilities across all districts.

Parker is concerned about the impacts if these rates are not reversed soon.

"We're going to continue in this cycle of our students being in some serious having some serious deficits. And that's hard to catch up with," she said.

You can check your school's chronic absentee rate here.

North Carolina has a goal of cutting the percentage of chronically absent students down to 11% by 2030, according to My Future NC.