Education / Schools

Rates in chronic absenteeism doubles in San Benito County schools

Local youth advocate says three main factors account for the increase. 

After three years of COVID-19, figures released by the California Department of Education show the virus seems to have brought another kind of epidemic: a huge rise in chronic absenteeism in kindergarten to high school compared to pre-pandemic rates across the nation.

For school districts In San Benito County, chronic absenteeism more than doubled in four years, from 11.1% in the pre-pandemic 2018-19 school year to 28.9% in 2021-22 school year. In the same period, the statewide absenteeism rate went from 12% to 30%.

The CDE defines chronic absenteeism as a student being absent for 10 or more of the days they were expected to attend. The department has data online beginning with the 2016-17 school year, when the standard for absenteeism changed from 15 days to 10 days, but withheld the figures from 2019-20 as being statistically unreliable.

Overall Chronic Absenteeism
Overall Chronic Absenteeism

 

According to Attendance Works, a national and state initiative concerned with better policies to improve school attendance, chronic absenteeism can result in students having difficulty learning to read by the third grade and can hinder progress in middle school and delay graduating from high school. It also found that low-income students are two or three times more likely to miss school.

In California, it also means less funding for school districts. The state allots funding based on the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) —the total days of student attendance divided by the total days of instruction.

Diane Ortiz, executive director of nonprofit Youth Alliance, which provides youth support programs, cited lack of access to behavioral health services for returning students who are anxious over returning to school after long periods of remote learning as one factor, along with lack of transportation and the complications of poverty for low-income students. She said that school teachers are stretched thin by dealing with both the educational and emotional needs of students which are contributing factors to absenteeism.

Hollister High School Principal Adrian Ramirez said the factors contributing to the increased rates include families still experiencing the effects of the pandemic, increased need of mental health services and access to consistent food/nutrition and stable housing.

“We also continue to have a heightened awareness of taking care of ourselves when we have anywhere from a common cold to actually testing positive for COVID-19,” Ramirez said. “As a result, we see an increase in families calling their students in absent to ensure they fully recover.”

He said the school district supports its students through its Wellness Center, by connecting with them in the classroom and providing free food and clothes through its Food Pantry and Baler Closet. He added the Food Service Department has increased its outreach to families that qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“With that said, it is also clear that good school attendance is one of the most accurate predictors to school success,” Ramirez said.

Chronic Absenteeism by District.
Chronic Absenteeism by District.

 

BenitoLink also reached out for comment to Aromas-San Juan and Hollister school districts for comments but have received no response.

The schools experiencing the highest rate of chronic absenteeism during the 2021-22 school year at Hollister School District are Sunnyslope Elementary (47.1%), Marguerite Maze Middle School(46.7%) and Rancho San Justo Middle School (37.3%).

Data shows males had a higher absenteeism rate in the county—11.8% compared to 9.7% for females during the 2021-22 school year. Across the state during the same period, the absenteeism rate was 12.3% for males and 11.8% for females.

Overall Absenteeism within the Aromas San Juan Unified School District
Overall Absenteeism within the Aromas San Juan Unified School District

Latino students had a higher absentee rate during the 2021-22 school year in two districts. At the San Benito High School District, which includes Hollister High and San Andreas Continuation High School, the absentee rate for Latino students was 30.7%, 22.0% for White students. The absentee rate at the HSD was 32.1% for Latino students, 24.3% for White students. Hollister High’s absentee rate 2021-22 was 26.7% while San Andreas Continuation’s rate was 92.6%. San Andreas has historically had high rates of absenteeism. In the school year 2020-21, it was at a six-year low 72.6%.

In the Aromas-San Juan district, White students had a 39.9% absentee rate, and Latinos had 33.5% rate.

 

Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.