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Chronic absenteeism—missing 10 percent of schools days—has long been a problem in Newark Public Schools District. However, according to a report from Tapinto, the rates, especially among high school students and seniors in particular, have soared.
The State Department of Education divides chronic absenteeism into three levels: “frequently absent” means missing between one and two days in a month; “chronically absent” means tmissing more than two days but less than 3.5 days a month; and “severely absent” means missing 3.5 or more days a month. For February, says Tapinto, “the latest absentee figures presented at a Newark Board of Education meeting [showed] seniors registered a 42.5% rate of either severely chronically absent (the worst category) or chronically absent (the second worst category). Another 26.6% were listed as frequently absent.”
That’s worse than last year, when some of the more troubled high schools registered high numbers of chronic absenteeism—28%— but not nearly as bad as 42.5%. On average across district schools, the absenteeism rate was 28%. So you can’t blame these numbers on the pandemic.
At a recent school board meeting, members seemed to shrug off the staggering numbers as “senioritis.” But experts disagree.
Hedy Chang, Executive Director of the national group Attendance Works, said, “one of the challenges for kids in twelfth grade is their entire high school life has been the pandemic. That is real disruptive learning. Same with eleventh graders. Those guys started in ninth grade online and we all know that ninth grade is key.” (Note: absenteeism rates among the district’s current freshman and sophomores, who didn’t experience school closures in high school, is in the mid-thirties.)
Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon, told Tapinto, “Kids are smart. Some are playing up the pandemic and snookering the system,” he said. “Absenteeism has been an issue before COVID. Kids are having a field day with this.”
The ramifications are large, particularly for high school junior and seniors who beginning the process or actively applying to colleges, careers, or the military, and signing up for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT.
This past February Superintendent Roger Leon announced with great fanfare that he’d found a solution to the problem: students with high attendance rates would win tickets to the New Jersey Devils, a hockey team based on Newark. At the time, Chang of Attendance Works commented, “‘hockey tickets are nice, but they have no connection to school.”