STOCKTON, Calif. — For students, simply going to school can be difficult enough, but the COVID-19 pandemic is causing many students to simply not attend school at all.
In the Stockton Unified School District, chronic absenteeism has been an ongoing problem the district is trying to address. However, the pandemic has made it much worse.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% or more of the school days in a school year. In school districts around California, the pandemic is causing a surge in chronic absenteeism.
Pre-pandemic in the 2018-2019 school year, chronic absenteeism stood at 19.7%. As of today, the rate is now at 35.7%, according to the district, which has an enrollment of 36,557 students.
"Specialists have said that COVID has not helped with chronic absenteeism because some students are learning at home and may not be logging on or may not having the resources they need,” said Melinda Meza, spokesperson for the Stockton Unified School District.
Stockton Unified has a team of what is called “outreach specialists,” who make personal visits to homes where someone is considered chronically absent. The team of six averages around 10 house calls a week and in September made close to 700 visits.
The outreach specialists said their goal is to provide help to struggling students. They also have incentives like free backpacks, gift cards and more to encourage students to go back to class.
“A lot of parents have lost their homes throughout COVID from evictions..., and I think it’s just trying to find a solution to get the kids to school and a lot of these parents face a lot of these challenges,” said Stockton Unified School District outreach specialist Brenda Valdivia.
Attendance Works is a non-profit that aims advancing student's success by addressing chronic absence. Hedy Chang, founder and executive director, says anxiety, depression, the disconnect with students and their in-person school relationships, as well as grief, are difficult byproducts of the pandemic.
"A lot of kids have experienced a significant amount of trauma too, right?" Chang said. "Ya know, they've had relatives who have been sick and unfortunately may even have passed away.”
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