Getting chronically absent students back in the classroom

getting chronically absent students back in the classroomStudents who miss 10 percent or more school days in an academic year are considered “chronically absent.” Chronic absenteeism significantly increases the risk of students falling behind in school. What’s more, chronic absenteeism is rarely an isolated issue. Students who miss school repeatedly tend to face other challenges that create roadblocks to educational equity. 

According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), chronically absent students are more likely to come from lower-income households or identify as students of color. The AFT also reports that various social determinants of health — including being the target of bullying on campus or experiencing homelessness — are linked to low attendance rates.

In this article, we’ll explore chronic absenteeism and review some steps school districts can take to combat the issue. We’ll also touch on the crucial role reliable transportation plays in ensuring that all students are able to attend school regularly. 

Understanding chronic absenteeism in a post-COVID world

Chronic absenteeism is not a new problem; in fact, it’s one that HopSkipDrive has been working to alleviate since our inception. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the issue. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 1 in 7 students across the country were chronically absent before the pandemic. An article by EducationWeek reveals that experts believe that rates of profound absenteeism may have tripled at the pandemic’s peak — and the numbers could be even worse for more vulnerable student populations. 

Another article from The New York Times, which took a close look at a December 2021 report from McKinsey & Company, showed that increased absences plagued many student populations during the height of COVID but that high-income students have since gotten back into the classroom.

It is, unfortunately, lower-income students — those already facing educational inequities — who are suffering the most. 

Collaborative strategies can combat chronic absenteeism

All students are not chronically absent for the same reason. And there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to reducing chronic absenteeism, mainly because schools cannot enforce attendance. Still, there are a variety of strategies that do help to encourage more regular attendance among students.

Here are some introductory steps school districts can take:

Step 1: Determine which students are chronically absent or at risk of becoming chronically absent.

Step 2: Once chronically absent or at-risk students are identified, school districts can then begin to explore the root cause of each student’s chronic absenteeism.

Step 3: Once root causes are determined, school districts can take proactive measures to boost attendance rates. This may involve partnering with parents, guardians, counselors and social service agencies to fully support each student’s needs. Action must be taken quickly, before absences accumulate and cause further learning loss. 

It’s also important to use positive, supportive strategies that aim to foster engagement and connection at school. Mentoring, counseling and increased social services can be very effective. 

Discipline as a response to chronic absenteeism is discouraged by experts. Suspensions, expulsions and unnecessary referrals to police and law enforcement are often harmful and/or ineffective. 

Solving chronic absenteeism is all about removing barriers

From bus driver shortages to disruptions in public transportation, there are various reasons why the process of getting to and from school can lead to chronic absenteeism. This is especially true for students who live farther away from school or outside bus zones, and for students who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability. 

In California, lawmakers are working to ensure all students have access to school-provided transportation to and from school. According to State Senator Nancy Skinner, students who have access to transportation provided by school districts miss fewer school days and are more likely to graduate. 

Unfortunately, school buses are not always a perfect solution for every student. Some students — especially those living in foster homes — live far away from their school of origin. Other students, including those who are neurodivergent or immunocompromised, may not be good candidates for riding a traditional school bus. Plus, the ongoing bus driver shortage is real, and many school districts are struggling to find enough school bus drivers to fill routes. 

Legislation such as the McKinney-Vento Act guarantees students experiencing homelessness transportation to and from school and extracurricular activities. For students with disabilities, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) may require that a student receive a private ride to and from school and other activities or appointments. And even when there is no legal indicator that a student requires alternative transportation to school, studies show that shorter, less complex commutes benefit students in various ways. 

If a school district is looking for proven ways to ensure chronically absent students get back into the classroom, ensuring children have a dependable ride to school is a great place to start. Fortunately, school districts can partner with transportation solutions like HopSkipDrive to get students where they need to go, safely and reliably.

Additional resources

Looking for more information about strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism? These references and materials offer critical insights into improving attendance for our country’s most vulnerable students. 


Interested in learning more about how your school district can partner with HopSkipDrive to get chronically absent students back in the classroom?

Get a free quote today.

Interested in learning more about HopSkipDrive’s non-routine student transportation solution?

Get A Quote