Absentee rates on the rise in Wisconsin schools

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 5:28 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - According to data from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, over 16% of the state’s public school students were identified as chronically absent in 2021.

Lisa Steig, Eau Claire Area School District (ECASD) Director of Students Services, said there are many reasons why kids miss school. She said the recent increase in chronically absent students may be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had kids that were really, really nervous to come back. And so some started to come back and then they would miss school again,” Steig said.

Even before COVID-19, Steig said absenteeism was a problem for schools.

“Sometimes children have academic struggles or they have relationship struggles. It could be that they have mental health issues and concerns. And so there’s just a whole range of of reasons why children are not coming to school,” Steig said.

She said ECASD data shows students sleeping habits may also be cause for concern.

“Our Youth Risk Behavior survey shared that our students are up on school nights between midnight and 5 a.m. almost 40% of the time.” Steig said.

Dr. Brittany Samson, a pediatrician with Marshfield Clinic, said it’s important for students to get eight hours of sleep.

“It can it can also affect your intellectual ability to some capacity. So if you’re getting consistently poor sleep, your ability to function at your previous capacity really diminishes. The hardest part of learning can be when kids are really young. And if you don’t like school when you’re young, it’s really hard to keep kids in school, it’s really hard to keep them engaged. And so setting them on a good path early on is really, really important,” Samson said.

Steig agreed with Samson and said kids who miss school are less likely to achieve academic and future success.

“I think about younger children when they miss school in the elementary years. If they are missing fundamental lessons to teach reading mathematics skills, if they’re not at proficiency by the end of third grade, that can lead into more trouble as academic trouble, which can lead into behavior difficulties as children get older. That could lead to lower graduation rates. It could lead to community problems with juvenile delinquency, adult corrections. I mean, there’s just a lot of concerns that can come up when children are missing so much school, their grades, they’re suffering and the behaviors can worsen,” Steig said.

The ECASD’s current attendance rate is 91%. Steig said the goal is to increase that to 95%.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum will be releasing new statewide data on absenteeism rates for the 2022 school year this spring.