New York City faces yet another battle in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shockingly, recent studies show that nearly 56% of the city’s 12th graders have been chronically absent from school since the city’s schools reopened fully post-pandemic.
Despite the restoration of normal school operations, data reveals that chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10% or more of the academic year or at least 18 days, soared to an alarming 40% in the 2021-2022 school year. Pre-pandemic figures paled in comparison at 27%, indicating a significant problem in the city’s education system.
Amid this worrying situation, the students from the Bronx have had the highest absenteeism at 48%, painting a bleak picture for this borough. The city’s Black and Hispanic students, who constitute a significant part of the school-going population, are also not faring well with nearly half of them missing school regularly across all five boroughs.
According to an investigation by the Empire Center for Public Policy, the COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated student absenteeism. The report points out that students now skip school for a plethora of reasons, including job commitments, caring for younger siblings, or simply feeling disengaged. The shift to remote learning during the pandemic is seen as a contributing factor in making the students comfortable with the idea of not attending school physically.
The study titled “School’s Out Forever” unveils alarming figures. Twelfth-graders had the worst chronic absenteeism last year with a rate of 55.9%, a stark increase from the 43.7% pre-pandemic. Students with disabilities have also been significantly affected, with 51.9% frequently absent compared to 31.7% before the pandemic.
The impact of this mass absenteeism doesn’t stop at empty classrooms. Missing school days has contributed to significant learning loss, and students affected are at risk of dropping out, leading to a potential increase in delinquency, substance abuse, and gang involvement.
Despite this scenario, New York City’s school regulations do not require students to attend classes to pass or graduate. There seems to be a loophole where teachers, under pressure from administrators, might pass students who have frequently skipped classes or done minimal work. This paradoxically has led to an increase in the graduation rate, raising questions about the preparedness of these students for future careers or college. Currently, the majority of graduates are not college ready.
To tackle this pervasive issue, it’s imperative to increase parent accountability and offer more robust support systems to students grappling with mental health issues. Ensuring that students understand the importance of attending school is crucial in this fight against chronic absenteeism. However, a concerted effort involving parents, educators, and the wider community will be needed to turn this worrying trend around.