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Chronic absenteeism is still a problem for school districts



Fargo, North Dakota – The time until kids return to the classroom is only a matter of weeks. More pupils are becoming chronically absent in school districts in North Dakota and Minnesota.

In North Dakota, a pupil who misses more than 10% of the scheduled school days is considered chronically absentee.

During the 2019–2020 academic year, 11% of students in the state had a history of frequent absences. This figure increased further, rising by 15% in the 2020–2021 academic year and 22% in the 2021–2022 academic year.

Joe Kolosky, director of approval and opportunity for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, stated that the COVID-19 Pandemic did have a significant impact on the nation’s and state’s attendance rates. “The first trend or reason the numbers are going up is obviously this.”

There has been a consistent upward trend when comparing state data to specific school districts, such as West Fargo Public Schools.

In the 2019–20 academic year, 5% of students missed class often. Since that time, the percentage has gradually risen. 8% of students were chronically absent between 2020 and 21. The percentage increased to 15% in 2021–22, and this past academic year it reached 16%.

Kolosky claims that younger children are missing school more frequently.

According to Kolosky, “We’re attributing that to those kindergarten and first-grade students who didn’t have time to adjust to traditional face-to-face instruction in school because they entered school during the pandemic, during distance learning.”

In addition, the Fargo Public School district has struggled with rising absenteeism for three of the last four academic years.

In 2019–20, 17% of the district’s students missed more than 10% of the school days. The amount increased to 22% the following year. There was a large increase in pupils who were chronically absent, reaching 29% in 2021–22.

Officials from Fargo Schools claim that the district has been trying to reduce absenteeism. The district’s initiatives are starting to yield results. The district’s absence rate fell to 25% in 2022–2023.

Kolosky claims that an initiative called the Stronger Connections award, worth $4.8 million, was created to aid in reversing the upward trend of absenteeism.

“That grant goes out to districts to strike the curriculum, improve school conditions, and improve the overall learning environment of schools,” he said.

The number of regularly absent students at Moorhead Area Public Schools has varied over the past three years.

In 2020–21, the percentage of students who were deemed to be chronically absent rose from 19% to 25%. The next year, there was a 2% decrease in absenteeism. Data for the 2022–2023 school year, according to district officials, has not yet been made public.

A district’s funding is not based on or affected by the number of students who are deemed to be chronically absent in Minnesota or North Dakota. A per-student financing model is used in both states. If Minnesota’s districts require additional revenue, it must be approved by local legislation, such as a school vote.