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‘A challenging problem’: CCSD’s student absenteeism remains high

Updated March 21, 2024 - 9:20 am

More than a third of Clark County School District students were chronically absent from school during the 2022-2023 school year, according to the state Department of Education.

That 38.3 percent is a slight improvement from the prior school year’s 40.6 percent, but it’s still much higher than the school district’s pre-pandemic chronic absenteeism rate of 21.9 percent.

There isn’t a simple answer — or solution — to persistent chronic absenteeism, state and local education officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

“It’s a challenging, multifaceted problem,” CCSD Chief College, Career and Equity Officer Mike Barton told legislators. “When you look at how we compare ’22-’23 to our current school year ’23-’24, you can see there’s improvement. But again, as you’ve heard from multiple presenters today, we are nowhere near those pre-pandemic levels.”

Absenteeism numbers are reported quarterly. As of early November, the chronic absenteeism rate at CCSD was 29.6 percent, according to the district.

Chronic absenteeism — when a student misses at least 10 percent of total instruction days — has plagued school districts across the country as students and staff have returned to school full time after the COVID-19 pandemic and remote instruction.

In Nevada, chronic absenteeism rose dramatically among elementary, middle and high school students from pre-pandemic levels. Chronic absenteeism also rose among all demographic groups in Nevada from before to after the pandemic, but Native American, Black and Pacific Islander students had the highest rates of absenteeism during the first semesters of the past two school years, according to the NDE.

Nearly two-thirds of schools in Nevada reported extreme chronic absenteeism during the 2021-2022 school year. That’s nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national average.

Barton said the CCSD identified five factors contributing to absenteeism, including a sense of belonging, difficulties with physical or mental health, basic needs not being met, child care and academic gaps.

A school’s environment, including safety, parental involvement, transportation issues and school policies, can also influence absenteeism, said Autumn Rivera, an education policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Chronic absenteeism isn’t just an indicator of a student’s academic success. Absences can serve as an early warning sign of a child’s health, Christopher Kearney, who chairs UNLV’s Department of Psychology, told lawmakers.

“Absenteeism really is an early warning signal for a variety of problems in areas of functioning in children, adolescents — academic functioning, mental health functioning, physical health, social emotional health,” Kearney said. “It’s a great way to sort of track early problems, because it’s a great benchmark that schools have at their disposal as sort of this early warning signal.”

The CCSD is trying to combat absenteeism with its “Every Day Matters” campaign, which encourages schools to utilize consistent messaging to increase attendance, a text message notification service and access to family support resources.

“We’re moving from punitive to more supportive because we know as mentioned before, punitive doesn’t necessarily work,” said Danielle Jones, the district’s director of chronic absenteeism.

Jones said her department received a grant to fund a home visit program. The department has given orientations to over 300 participants, and more than 70 schools have signed up to participate in the program, which is meant to make students feel a sense of belonging, she said.

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on X.

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