Sep 22, 2022 - News

Student absences skyrocketed in Columbus last school year

Change in chronic absenteeism in Central Ohio school districts, 2018–2022
Data: Ohio Department of Education; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

More than 30% of Ohio's K-12 students were chronically absent this past school year, nearly double the pre-pandemic rate.

  • The rate was even higher in some area districts, including 65% in Columbus City Schools, per the state's yearly school report cards.

Why it matters: The new data is another illustration of how the pandemic is disrupting kids' lives and academic achievement.

Between the lines: Last year, schools were advised to send students home to quarantine if they were exposed to COVID-19 at school while not masked or fully vaccinated.

  • Under new CDC guidelines, this is no longer the case. Students are advised to wear a mask but quarantines are not required.

Zoom in: Students who are Black, economically disadvantaged or have disabilities had substantially higher absences, per the state data.

  • Chronic absenteeism can be a symptom of pandemic-heightened challenges, such as mental health and economic stressors.

Of note: While most local districts' absences got worse from 2021-22, a few actually improved.

  • Columbus reduced its rate from 74.6% to 65%, South-Western from 56% to 41% and Whitehall from 46% to 42%.
  • The rates are still significantly higher than pre-pandemic, though.

What's next: Educators are working to reconnect with students, including in Columbus, which placed attendance specialists in buildings to support families, a spokesperson tells Axios.

  • Stay in the Game, an attendance-focused partnership with the Crew, launches today.

Meanwhile, the state budget allocated up to $7 million to attendance recovery through the Ohio Department of Education.

  • That funds a program called EngageOhio with the company Graduation Alliance, which reaches out to families — 16,000 so far — to connect them with resources.
  • It's currently at capacity with over 210 school systems opting in, chief development officer Greg Harp tells Axios.

What we're watching: With COVID vaccines now available for all school-aged children and quarantine guidelines loosened, a boost in attendance is likely this school year.


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