The citywide rate of chronic absenteeism among New York City (NYC) public-school students has risen to a staggering 40 percent.
With 938,000 students enrolled in NYC’s schools, that means some 375,000 kids are missing too much school and falling too far behind.
But that number is likely an undercount because students out with COVID or quarantined could be marked present if they logged in online or had minimal contact with a teacher.
“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.
It’s a major problem facing cities nationwide. In New York, chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10 percent or more of the academic year, at least 18 days, for any reason excused or unexcused. The loss often results in low academic achievement, truancy, dropping out, delinquency and substance abuse, child advocates warn.
Schools Chancellor David Banks has ordered his deputies to stem the hemorrhage.
“It will be 40 percent if no actions are taken. We are taking actions,” a spokesman said.
The 40 percent is up from 26 percent in 2018-19, before the COVID-19 crisis.
The city Department of Education has not posted chronic absenteeism data for the last two years.
The rate is likely worse because principals say schools were told to mark COVID-stricken or quarantined students present if a teacher or administrator simply made contact with the kids or their parents in an email or phone call.
The DOE said kids “may be marked present if they engage in learning remotely.”
Many families worried about safety kept their kids home in the first weeks after NYC schools opened for all in-person classes in September, Haimson and others said. Also, nearly 140,000 students have tested positive since then, staying home sick, while untold thousands of exposed classmates had to quarantine.
Heightened anxiety, depression, fear of bullying, and restrictions on fun after-school activities such as sports have also led to lagging attendance, principals say.
They also cite the DOE’s policy since early in the pandemic to no longer use attendance as a requirement for students to pass.
“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.’
On top of that, enrollment has dropped. Chancellor Banks has made tackling the crisis a priority.